Growing Up Indian


photo credit: Aaron Huey

The Argus Leader has an important and informative series on what it’s like to grow up Indian in South Dakota, on or off the reservations. The decades of multi-generational trauma and resulting pervasive poverty have taken their toll on our tribes whether they are fighting to maintain their traditional cultures or if they are trying to survive being assimilated into white man’s society.

ACTION: You can help by reading and using the multi-media parts of the series to understand a little of what it’s like to be young and trying to survive against all odds. Your knowledge can help us because we need your influence with policy makers and other leaders/organizers in your state.  

Excerpts and all linkage below:


The inception of the series started in 2008 when reporter Steve Young [Huron Nation] was working on stories about suicide on South Dakota’s Indian Reservations. It was pointed out to him that most white Americans don’t know about the difficult life on our reservations. This series introduces you to several young individuals and their stories.

The youth interviews are often painful to watch but there are also glimmers of hope, hope that maybe something fortunate will happen in these young lives that will help them survive to find a good life and grow old with dignity.

Start here for an overview of the articles with links to video and photographs.

Below are excerpts from the currently published stories:

Little Neleigh

Neleigh Driving Hawk is 3 years old and full of the innocence and beauty of childhood. She likes to ride her tiny bicycle on the ragged streets of the Lower Brule Reservation. But all around her are examples of what her life may one day be.


Surviving birth

In many ways, Neleigh is lucky. She’s lived three years in a world where children die in birth or in the first few weeks of life at rates well beyond the rest of South Dakota. More…

The early years

The long-term effects of women drinking and taking drugs while pregnant evident across Indian Country, in the faces and the scars of small children starting life with damaged brains and bodies.


Pre-teen guidance

Children in the critical pre-teen stage begin to look around them and understand their world. For Indian children that may be a life void of adults who can show them the right way to live.


The thoughts of suicide

Physical maturity brings a new reality for Indian children in South Dakota. It too often is a period confronting sexual assault, gangs and violence that contribute to the near epidemic rates of suicide.


Teens and violence

The gang culture – initiation, manipulation, drugs, assault and even murder – finds fertile grounds in a place where the family structure is ripped apart and hopelessness reigns. And it’s become a way of life in many parts of Indian Country.


The fleeting promise of education

Only about one in four Indian students graduate high school in South Dakota. But it’s that possibility of graduation and what may possibly lie ahead that drives the ambitious young people on the reservations.


Autumn and the precious few

For all the despair and impossible odds, there is hope. There are successes. Autumn White Eyes graduated from high school and drove away from the Pine Ridge Reservation this fall headed for a future that seems almost unimaginable given what she’s experienced growing up.


Photographer: Devin Wagner

The series runs a few more days so check the Argus for more.

Please share this series with your friends and family.



My past related diaries:

Pine Ridge: American Prisoner of War Camp #334

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing re: Youth Suicide

Hope and Opportunity on Pine Ridge Rez

Revealing Pine Ridge Rez Demographic Information

Please Continue Your Support of South Dakota Reservations  

1 Comment

  1. I’m standing, 2nd from the right with little red moccasins. I’m 2 or 3 years old. That’s my mom on the very right holding my little brother.  This was on one of our annual or bi-annual summer trips to visit my grandparents. That’s my grandfather, a Medicine Man in the brown pants and my grandmother in the purple velvet blouse. The rest are my aunts, uncles and cousins.

    Location: Inscription House, AZ on the Navajo reservation

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