June 17, 2014

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation


The Pine Ridge reservation is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Oglala Sioux Tribal members are descendants of the Tetonwan Division of the Great Sioux Nation.

Pineridge Reservation road and fields

Pineridge Reservation road and fields

The Lakota Nation includes Oglala, Brule, Hunkpapa, Blackfoot, Minnecoujou, No Bows and Two Kettle.

The Yankton and Yanktonais are called the Wiceyala or Middle Sioux.

Four bands of the Isanti, or Stone Knife People, including the Mdewankanton, Wahpetonwan, Wahpekute, and Sissetonwan comprise the Eastern Division of the Sioux Nation.


The United States Government as defined by the United States Constitution has governmental relationships with International, Tribal, and State entities. The Tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation signed treaties in the 1824, 1851, and 1868 with the United States which are the legal documents that established our boundaries and recognized our rights as a sovereign government.

Pine Ridge Reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation which was created by treaty with the U.S. Government in 1868. The Great Sioux Reservation included the whole of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. During the years in the 1800’s several treaties were entered into between the Sioux and the U.S. Government. With each new treaty the Sioux lost more land until finally, in 1889 the Great Sioux Reservation was reduced to five separate reservations, one was the Pine Ridge Reservation.

This reduction of Tribal lands to a reservation with defined boundaries by the U.S. Congress in the Act of March 2, 1889, which identified all the Lakota/Dakota reservations, is known as the Great Sioux Settlement. The Oglala Sioux Tribal government maintains jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservation including all rights-of-way, waterways, watercourses and streams running through any part of the reservation and to such others lands as may hereafter be added to the reservation under the laws of the United States.

The Tribal government operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and approved by the Tribal membership and Tribal Council of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Tribe is governed by an elected body consisting of a 5 member Executive Committee and a 16 member Tribal Council, all of whom serve a four year term.

The Tribal Council Chairman is the administrative head of the Tribe and is assisted by the Executive Committee which consists of the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Fifth Member, and the Sgt. At Arms. The President and Vice-President of the Tribal Council are elected at large and the remainder are elected from their districts by the Tribal membership.

Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Lakota who are members of a major Sioux division known as the Western or Teton Sioux. Pine Ridge has a tribal membership that totals 17,775. One third of the total population report Lakota as their first language.

Pine Ridge Reservation Districts:

1. Eagle Nest 4. Pass Creek 7. Wakpamni
2. LaCreek 5. Pine Ridge 8. White Clay
3. Medicine Root 6. Porcupine 9. Wounded Knee


Tribal/Agency Headquarters: Pine Ridge, SD
Counties: Bennett, Jackson, Shannon, South Dakota
Enrolled membership: 17,775
Reservation Native Population: 20,806
Labor Force: 10,280
Unemployment rates: 45%
Language: Lakota, English
Lakota Bands: Oglala


Land Status: Acres
Total Area: 2,000,000
Tribal Owned: 706,340
Allotted Owned: 1,064,840
Total Tribal/Allotted Owned: 1,771,180
Government Owned: 1,536
Non-Indian Owned: Not available
Reservoir Taken area: Not available


Rolling hills on Pineridge Reservation

The Pine Ridge Reservation is situated in southwestern South Dakota on the Nebraska state line, about 50 miles east of the Wyoming border. The area includes over 11,000 square miles contained in seven counties; Bennett, Custer, Fall River, Jackson, and Shannon counties in South Dakota. Pine Ridge, Kyle, and Wanblee are the largest communities on the reservation. Other smaller communities include Manderson, Oglala, Porcupine, Red Shirt, and Wounded Knee.

The three diverse geographic regions within the service unit borders make Pine Ridge one of the most scenic service units within the Aberdeen Area. The southern and eastern sections of the service unit consists of wide open grassy plains. In the west central section the prairie merges into the small eastern spurs of the Black Hills which are further to the west. The result is an area of rolling pine covered hills and ridges, providing the inspiration for the name Pine Ridge. To the north of the wooded area are approximately 160,000 acres of badlands, characterized by roughly eroded ridges, peaks, and mesas. The badlands are known for their panoramic beauty created by the shapes and colors of the land formations.

The Pine Ridge reservation is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Reservation is located in southwestern South Dakota with Fall River and Custer County lines as the western border with the Badlands and Jackson County as the northern border joining the Rosebud Reservation on the northeast corner. The Bennett County line is the eastern boundary and the Nebraska border is the southern boundary of the reservation. The total land area of the Pine Ridge reservation is 2.8 million acres with 1.7 million acres tribally or individually owned. The land is an integral part of the Lakota culture and the economic base of the reservation.



Pineridge Indian Reservation Life

Pineridge Indian Reservation Life

The Great Sioux Nation is also called The Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Nation. The people of the Sioux Nation refer to themselves as Lakota or Dakota which means friend or ally. The United States government took the word Sioux from (Nadowesioux), which comes from a Chippewa (Ojibway) word which means little snake or enemy. The French traders and trappers who worked with the Chippewa( Ojibway) people shortened the word to Sioux.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal members are descendants of the Tetonwan Division of the Great Sioux Nation. The Lakota Nation includes Oglala, Brule, Hunkpapa, Blackfoot, Minnecoujou, No Bows and Two Kettle. The Lakotas speak an “L” dialect of Siouan language and were expert horsemen and buffalo hunters on the plains.

The Yankton and Yanktonais are called the Wiceyala or Middle Sioux. Four bands of the Isanti, or Stone Knife People, including the Mdewankanton, Wahpetonwan, Wahpekute, and Sissetonwan comprise the Eastern Division of the Sioux Nation. The Yanktonias speak the “N” dialect and the Isanti speak the “D” dialect of Siouan language. The Yanktonais and the Isanti were a river-plains people who did some farming as well as buffalo hunting.

The government identified all the Tribes with similar languages as the Sioux people. The oral tradition of our people state that the Lakota and Dakota people were one nation. The Lakota people moved away and formed their own nation. The Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people still practice their sacred and traditional ceremonies which encompass the seven rites of Lakota religion brought by the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

Social activities such as powwow, rodeos, and races are celebrated in the summer months. Special powwows held for individuals who accomplished a stage in their lives such as graduation or acceptance into the armed forces with traditional honoring ceremonies, give away, and feasts to celebrate the accomplishments. The oral tradition is still passed down from the elders to the youth.
The future of our people is in the hands of our children. The children of the Great Sioux Nation will bring us into the 21st century with pride.



The Oglala Sioux Tribe is part of the Great Sioux Nation of the Titowan Division.. The Great Sioux Nation recognizes our land base in accordance with the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Great Sioux Nation extended from the Big Horn Mountains in the west to the eastern Wisconsin.

The territory extended from Canada in the north to the Republican River in Kansas in the south. The Great Sioux Nation was reduced in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty from the Big Horn Mountains in the west to the east side of the Missouri River, the Heart River in North Dakota in the north and the Platte River in Nebraska to the south. This includes the entire western half of South Dakota.

The Black Hills are located in the center the Great Sioux Nation. The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota/ Dakota people and today considered an important part of our spiritual lives. A direct violation of the 1868 Treaty was committed in 1874 by General George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry. The 7th Cavalry entered the Black Hills, the center of the Great Sioux Nation and found gold in the Black Hills. The Gold Rush started the conflict between the United States and Great Sioux Nation. The Great Sioux Nation opposite this violation of the treaty. The United States Government wanted to buy or rent the Black Hills from the Lakota people. The Great Sioux Nation refused to sell or rent their sacred lands.

The 7th Cavalry under General George A. Custer was requested to bring the Sioux bands in and place them on the reservation lands. On June 15, 1876, the Battle of the Little Big Horn between the 7th Cavalry and Lakota Nation with their allies Cheyenne and Araphoes at Greasy Grass, Montana took place. The Sioux Nation won a victory over General George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry.

The Great Sioux Nation scattered, some to Canada and others surrendered to the reservations. The United States Government demanded that the Lakota nation move to the reservations. The people finally surrendered after being cold and hungry and moved on the reservations. The government still insisted buying the Black Hills from the Lakota people. The Sioux (Lakota) Nation refused to sell their sacred lands. The United States Government introduced the Sell or Starve Bill or the Agreement of 1877.

The Lakota people starved but refused to sell their sacred land so the U.S. Congress illegally took the Black Hills from the Great Sioux Nation. The Allotment Act of 1888 allotted Indian lands into 160-acre lots to individuals to divide the nation. The Act of 1889 broke up the Great Sioux Nation into smaller reservations, the remainder of which exist today at about one half their original size in 1889.

Many of the Lakota people began believed in the Ghost Dance experiences as the movement spread to the reservations. The U. S. Army feared the unity through prayer among the Tribes and ordered the arrest of Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Reservation. In the process of the arrest Sitting Bull was shot by Indian Police on December 15, 1890.

The Hunkpapa who lived in Sitting Bull’s camp and relatives fled to the south onto the Cheyenne River Reservation. They joined the Big Foot Band in Cherry Creek, South Dakota then traveled to the Pine Ridge reservation to meet with Chief Red Cloud. The 7th Cavalry caught them at a place called Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. The 7th Cavalry took all the weapons from the Lakota people. The 7th Cavalry massacred 300 people at Wounded Knee and left the bodies to freeze in the snow. The people of the Great Sioux Nation slowly recovered from this injustice and continue to survive in their homeland.

Of all the reservations in the Dakotas, Pine Ridge is the one most noted on the National level. Several possible explanations for this recognition exist. First, in early reservation history Pine Ridge was the site of the 1890 tragedy at Wounded Knee Creek in which most of Chief Big Foot’s band of Minneconjou Teton Sioux were annihilated by the Seventh Cavalry. In more recent history, National media attention was focused on the 1973 armed occupation of the community of Wounded Knee by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Despite all the adversity encountered by the Oglala they remain a people of vitality, hopefulness, and with their cultural identity intact.



The climate of the reservation is typical of the Northern Great Plains with extremes during the summer and winter that vary from 105 to -30 F respectively. The average temperatures range from 74 in July, to 21 F in January. The normal precipitation for the year averages 19 inches.



Distance, weather conditions, and the lack of automobiles are the major deterrents to access at Pine Ridge. There is no public transportation on the reservation. Almost all travel is by private car. However, not all residents have access to a car and must depend upon friends or relatives for rides. Many people walk to reach their destination, but the distance between communities and weather conditions limits this activity. Consequently, a combination of hitchhiking and walking has become common.

Highway 18 travels across the reservation from east to northwest and is the major artery. Other paved major all-weather roads include S.D. 87, 29, and 75, and BIA 2, 27, 28, 40, and 41. Isolated homes and communities are serviced by gravel roads. Most homes on the reservation are inaccessible during periods of blizzards or heavy rain.

There is an approved paved landing strip near the Pine Ridge community.

Pine Ridge community, in the southwestern corner of the reservation, is the administrative headquarters for the Service Unit, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Tribal Government, and state agencies. Kyle, the approximate geographic center of the reservation, is the second largest community and the headquarters for the Community College system. The third major community is Wanblee in the extreme northeast corner of the reservation. Numerous small villages and settlements are scattered throughout the reservation.

The only major city within a couple hours driving distance from Pine Ridge is Rapid City, population 57,700. Chadron, Gordon and Rushville, NE are all within driving distance, but none have a population over 5,000.



The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s major economic occupation is cattle ranching and farming for tribal operators. The Tribe operates a large Parks and Recreation Department, guided hunting for small game, big game,including buffalo and elk and the Cedar Pass Lodge which includes a motel, restaurant and gift shop. The Tribe also operates the Praire Wind Casino including black jack, poker, and slot machines.

Commercial business by private operators include grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, laundromat, video arcades, fast food shops, and arts and handcrafts.

The majority of employment is provided by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Oglala Lakota College, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the Praire Winds Casino.



The Oglala Sioux Tribe has some of finest hunting and fishing around with guided hunts provided by the Parks and Recreation Department.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe sponsors an annual pow wow the fourth week in August. This event also includes a rodeo, outdoor concert, and a softball tournament. There are pow wows held year round in the various communities for holidays and honoring occasions.

The Tribe operates the Praire Winds Casino with black jack, poker, and slot machines. Tribal organizations sponsor high stakes bingo games most nights of the week.

The community of Pine Ridge has a campground near the pow wow grounds and a number of lakes for fishing and swimming. During the year other sports activities such as softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments are also held during the year.



Electric utility services for the Pine Ridge Reservation are provided by LaCreek and ………….The Golden West Telecommunications Company provides telephone service to the reservation. A tribal member provides cable TV service in the Pine Ridge community. The Tribe operates the water department, and solid waste collection for the communities. The Mni Wiconi Project is under construction to supply clean water from the Missouri River to the communities that do not have potable water or are served by wells with poor water quality.



The Oglala Sioux Tribe provides an elderly nutrition program, and sponsors community activities. Youth recreational activities are provided through local organizations including a rodeo club. Health care is provided by the Indian Health Service at the Pine Ridge Hospital and Health Center Clinic in coordination with the Tribal Health Department Community Health Representative and Ambulance Service. The Health Department also provides examinations and eyeglasses to all residents at reduced rates.



Public housing on the reservation is managed by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Housing Authority. The Authority has constructed housing for approximately 43% of the approximately 2,300 families on the reservation. The Housing Authority manages housing units in the communities an on scattered rural sites through HUD Low Rent and Mutual Help home ownership housing programs. Other housing is available through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service for their employees. Private housing stock is limited.

The housing has been apportioned to the nine (9) districts by population and need. The Housing Authority is working on reducing the backlog of substandard housing and also to construct houses for approximately 4% of the families that do not have any housing of their own.



The Oglala Sioux Tribe desires to continue their progress in providing for our people and the development of increased self-sufficiency. The Tribe continues to explore means to develop Tribal resources and pursue other business development initiatives. There are plans to develop cultural resources to preserve and educate Tribal members and non-members. The development of tourism will strengthen the economy on the reservation. The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe will continue to search for ways to maintain our culture and develop new economic opportunities for our future generations.


Terrain: Rolling hills, woodlands, river valleys and creeks dominate the reservation.

Tribal Lands Acres
Agriculture 84,983
Grazing 1,308,064
Forestry 230,729


Environmental Problem Statement: In 1997, Tribal environmental staff identified the need for landfill construction, solid waste collection, and a plan for landfill closure as the major reservation environmental problem.

Further Reading:

Rez Ramblings: Living on the Pine Ridge as 21st Century as an “Injun”

American Indian Reservations O to R
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