Originally confined to the Pine Ridge Reservation, today most Oglalas live in abject poverty in what is the poorest region of the United States, southwestern South Dakota. (2008) Story Summary: The history of Wounded Knee, though forgotten by many Americans, is very much alive on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the lives of the Lakotas are still defined today by what happened on December 29, 1890. On that cold day, the U.S. 7th Calvary slaughtered more than 300 Lakotas, most of them women and children. The Wounded Knee Massacre is known as the event that brought an end to the 19th century ÒIndian WarsÓ waged by the U.S. government on the native people of North America. My first trip to the Wounded Knee Massacre site was on an evening of bitter cold. Dense clouds hung overhead and the dull gray light appeared lifeless. Snow seemed to fly horizontally, while the wind stung like tiny needles poking just beyond the skinÕs surface. As day began to fade, the sun appeared through a break in the clouds. The rays of light burned bright, a red haze soaked the scene around me. The wind seemed to fall silent, like a dancer suspended in a moment of flight. The crimson sky pulled my gaze west toward the Black Hills, ÒPaha SapaÓÑthe land that was at the heart of the war between the Lakotas and the United States. The Black Hills are the sacred spiritual center for Lakota traditions. In 1868, the U.S. government signed a treaty with the Lakotas, guaranteeing them rights to territory that included the Black Hills. General Custer discovered gold there in 1874, and soon those hallowed lands were invaded by prospectors eager to strike it rich. The Lakotas fought back and U.S. forces punished them severelyÑultimately forcing all Lakotas onto reservations and subjugating the tribes. Over 100 years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lakotas, stating that the terms of the 1868 treaty had been violated and the land taken illegally. The Court awarded the Lakotas a cash
[ EPF 2012 FINALIST ]
For ten years now, I have photographed throughout the Midwest, the agricultural and industrial heart of America. I began in Iowa, my home, where youth flight has brought many small towns to the brink of extinction. Lost and alienated, these communities seem entombed in obscurity. Following Iowa, my work led me to two other communities in the Midwest where systemic poverty and suffering are the norm: the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Detroit. Pine Ridge has a long history of injustice and neglect, and sits in the poorest region of the United States. Detroit is the only city in America that has seen its population rise above one million residents and then fall back below. As in rural America, depopulation weighs heavily on the economy of Detroit, the poorest large city in the nation.
Paha Sapa (Black Hills). Once gold was discovered in the Black Hills, prospectors began a boom that consumed much of the Lakota’s sacred land. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty guaranteed the Black Hills for the Lakotas, but the treaty was broken after General Custer announced the discovery of gold in 1874. (2010)
Girl at home, Oglala, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Dog and carcass, Batesland, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Summer Mills at her grandmotherÕs front window, Porcupine, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Winter (near Wanblee), Pine Ridge Reservation. (2008)
Boys play, Oglala, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Buffalo Kill, Pine Ridge Reservation. Oglala tribal rangers will distribute the buffalo meat to tribal members for ceremonial and social events across the reservation. Lakotas depended on buffalo for food, shelter, and spiritual guidance before the great herds, estimated between 30 and 200 million animals, were exterminated with the support of the U.S. government in the 1800s. Military leaders expressed their desire to eradicate the buffalo to deny Indians of their own source of food. (2010)
Wikuchela Waters sleeps on his parentÕs bed, Allen, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Paha Sapa (Black Hills), South Dakota. (2010)
Snow covered trees, Pine Ridge Rervation. (2010)
Children play at sunset, Allen, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2008)
Alton Broken Rope (died at 32-years-old), Allen, Pine Ridge Reservation. Life expectancy is 48 years for men and 52 for women on the reservation. (2008)
Horseshoes, Allen, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2008)
Kids get high, Allen, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Rural America has lost over twelve million people since 2000, with the latest figure putting its share of the nation’s population at just 16 percent, the lowest in history in 1910, that figure was 72 percent. My photographs document those fighting to continue living in these forgotten communities, the individuals working to maintain traditions that symbolize rural life. Swaths of the Great Plains, Midwest, and Appalachia, as well as numerous Southern states are in the greatest danger. Many towns in these regions are likely already lost, and my work will simply document these communities before they fade away.
As I continue to work on this project, my travels will take me back to Jefferson County, Mississippi, North Texas, and Appalachia. Jefferson County has the highest percentage of African Americans in the United States (85%). This county has a rich history that reflects America’s troubled past; it is also the poorest county in the poorest state in the nation. I have photographed briefly in all three locations and funding from the EPF will allow me to finish these essays as I expand the project nationally.
Snow covers ridges and pines near Kyle, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Pines on a hill, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Getting every last drop, Allen, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2008)
Doing homework in a cold, unfinished basement during winter, Oglala, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Boy with mask, Oglala, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Clarence Broken Rope is one of the many young people on the Pine Ridge Reservation without a job. The reservation has an unemployment rate over 80 percent. (2008)
Boys play in a creek, Pine Ridge Village, Pine Ridge Reservation. Lakota traditions, including the language, seem to be fading as elders pass and the reservation’s youth embrace popular culture. (2010)
Funeral for car accident victims, Manderson, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Horse races at the Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow, Pine Ridge Reservation. Lakotas celebrate traditional life throughout late summer with Sun Dances, Pow Wows, and horse races across the reservation. Pine Ridge sits in the poorest region of America, but is a section of the country rich with culture and traditional life. (2010)
Hunting deer, Pine Ridge Reservation. (2010)
Danny Wilcox Frazier has spent the last decade covering issues of marginalized communities across the United States. He is a contributing photographer at Mother Jones magazine. Frazier’s work has appeared in: TIME, GEO, The Sunday Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, and Frontline (PBS). Frazier was awarded the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography leading to his book, “Driftless” (2007). After completing the book, Frazier directed a documentary that confronts issues highlighted by his photographs. The film was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 and won a Webby that same year. In 2009, Frazier received a grant from The Aftermath Project for work on the Pine Ridge Reservation. His photographs appear in numerous collections including: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. Frazier is working on his next book, “Lost Nation”, a look at economic and geographic isolation across America.