Michael A Shapiro Photography

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Pine Ridge Reservation: Health Care On

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Pine Ridge knocks you on your butt. The starkness of the prairie with its brown grass, rock crags and bare spots where nothing grows, the rock cliffs of the badlands with the White River, sometimes trickling, sometimes roaring, through the bottom, and the sky so blue and big that you see storm clouds crossing the state line from Wyoming into South Dakota, is beautiful. Then you hit the town of Pine Ridge, the ailing heart of the reservation, and something inside you starts churning; your mind goes numb; you feel the pit in your stomach. You've reached the stoplight at the western end of Highway 18, right where it turns north, and you're at the end of the world.

This is where the U.S. government put the Indians, the Oglala Lakota, to rot and die, and they are still rotting culturally and dying physically. The tribe does everything in their power to survive, but their power is no match for that of 150 years of oppression and systematic starvation. The tribe has never recovered from being conquered, deceived and moved to this starkness.

The government makes gestures, goes through the motions of helping, making reparations, so to speak, but they do not follow through on their promises or their supposed intentions. They built a hospital in Pine Ridge, but they did not properly staff nor equip it. Still, it is a nice building. The government provides commodity food, but a diet of this food accounts for the one of the highest diabetes rates in the world. The government provides contract health care, but it doesn't cover most of the problems inherent in the Pine Ridge population.

The list of problems is long as is the list of questions about what can be done. If some of the philanthropic foundations around the world would investigate the condition of the people on the reservation, perhaps they could help, just as they help people in other developing nations.

My hope is that through purchase, exhibition, and publication, my photographs can be used to help the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. To discuss any of these options, please contact me.