SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Black Hills, including the land on which Mount Rushmore stands, was once set aside for exclusive use by Native Americans as part of the Great Sioux Reservation in the 1868 Treaty signed at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. This large reservation was the start of the nine that still exist in South Dakota today. None of today’s reservations include land include the Black Hills.
Gen. George A. Custer led an expedition including gold miners into the Black Hills in 1874. The gold miners and others who followed demanded protection, according to the National Archives. The battle with the Sioux continued until 1877 when the U.S. government confiscated the land in 1877.
The reservation land in the Black Hills was removed from the Great Sioux Reservation. After the Dakota Territory was divided into the states of North and South Dakota, the remaining land in the Great Sioux Reservation was divided into smaller reservations.
South Dakota’s population is 886,667, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 8.4% of that population is American Indian, according to the Census Bureau. Nine percent of the state’s population was American Indian in 2019, according to the Census.
Based on 8.4% of 886,667 in the 2020 Census, about 75,000 Native Americans live in South Dakota. That number may vary from enrolled membership.
South Dakota ranks in the lower level of the top five in the U.S. in Native American population. But there are concerns that the population has been undercounted in the state and nationally in the U.S. Census.
The factors that threaten the overall well being of the Native American population, particularly those on federal reservations, are the factors that can cause undercounting.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said poverty, housing insecurity, lower education attainment than other populations and age, as the Native American population tends to have a lower median age than other populations, can make it difficult to get accurate Census numbers.
The nine reservations in the state are: Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Flandreau, Lower Brule, Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Sisseton-Wahpeton, Standing Rock, Yankton.
The official U.S. poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, according to the U.S. Census.
Reservations in South Dakota post much higher poverty rates.
The poverty rate for American Indians on the Cheyenne River Reservation is 42.5%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. In 2010, 49.9% of families lived below the poverty line.
The poverty level at Pine Ridge is 53.75% according to the Pine Ridge website. Within Pine Ridge or the Oglala Lakota Nation, a majority of people in one county don’t even reach the poverty line, according to a 2019 testimony before the U.S. House Natural Resource Committee. In Oglala County more than 51.9% of the population lived below the poverty line.
Comparatively, 59% of Haiti’s population lives below the line, according to OCHA Services.
According to the World Bank and a 2016 Poverty Assessment, the percentage of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line declined from 31.1% in 2006 to 19.7% in 2013.
Poverty and housing security could result in homelessness which makes it difficult to count those individuals in a census. Also multiple reservation residents could be living in one house which can make it difficult to count individuals.
Reservation websites and a letter from Kevin Killer, Chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. to the state’s redistricting committee, said as many as 10 people can live in a reservation homes.
Miles, acres of reservation
The nine reservations cover about 5 million acres in South Dakota. Pine Ridge is the largest with 2.1 million acres in Ogala Lakota County and parts of Jackson and Bennett Counties.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs lists enrolled members for each reservation and for some, the number of those who live on the reservation.
Pine Ridge (46,800) and Rosebud (33,300) have the largest enrollments.
Cheyenne River has an enrollment of 15,990 with about 70% living on the reservation.
At least 175 years ago, the Native Americans who lived in South Dakota were able to travel across the state. Some followed the migration of the bison. Others formed villages such as the village located near the Big Sioux River in what is Good Earth State Park near Sioux Falls.
The state covers about 77,123 square miles. South Dakota became a state in 1889, which is 21 years after the 1868 Treaty at Fort Laramie promised Native Americans exclusive use of the Black Hills.
Poor health, short lives
American Indians and Alaska Natives have a lower life expectancy by 5.5 years, National Congress of American Indians.
From 2004 to 2018, heart disease was the No. 1 cause of death for Native Americans, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. It was the leading cause in seven of those years followed by accidents, five years and cancer, three years.
Eleven counties, all with at least some portion in a reservation consistently ranked in the bottom 25% of the state in rankings for health status, health access and health risk behavior, according to a 2016-2020 S.D. DOH Primary Care Needs Assessment.
Those counties are Bennett, Dewey, Mellette, Todd, Buffalo, Jackson, Oglala Lakota, Ziebach, Corson, Lyman and Roberts.
American Indians “continue to die at higher rates than other Americans in many categories, including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases,” Indian Health Services said on a disparity section on its website.