Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Pine Ridge Reservation


Sophi Cheyenne and her daughter, Ariel Franks, Wounded Knee, SD


Several weeks ago I packed up the car to head out to Pine Ridge Reservation, where I have been working for the past six years. Working with the Lakota people has taught me an immense amount of what I know today about storytelling. I grew up in Eastern South Dakota, and the first time I ventured out to Pine Ridge was in 2005 with a friend on the way home from college. We picked up a man on the side of the road with the name of Loren Black Elk, who spent the next two hours telling us about his culture and the injustices suffered by his people throughout history. You could see the pain in his face as he spoke, but conversely, there was a deep respect for life even if it was hidden under the surface of the hardened years of his skin. After that trip I knew I would be back, I just didn't' know it would take me back over and over again throughout the years.

This time as I packed up the car I had feelings of excitement and uncertainty, much like the many times before that I prepared for the 18 hour drive to South Dakota. I was excited to reconnect with friends, once merely acquaintances and photographic subjects, who now call me "brother" and accept me as one of their own. I was excited to meet new people and hear their stories, yet uncertain as to where those stories might lead me. More than that though, I was excited to re-tool this visual narrative that I had been weaving over the past 7 years. More importantly, I needed time to think about the visual narrative that the major publications chose to focus on, and hopefully tell a different story of the Lakota people.

Elijah Battese, 12, Pine Ridge, SD


Richard Lame, Pine Ridge, SD


George Eagle Bull, Pine Ridge, SD

When I first started this project I didn't have a clear storyline in mind, other than showing what life is like on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I wanted to show the pain, but also the beauty of their beliefs, culture, and vast wilderness of the plains. As the narrative developed, I strove to focus on contemporary culture's effect on the youth of the reservation, which led me to some of the gang activity and hip-hop influence so many of the younger individuals navigate towards. As this part of the story developed, TIME, The New York Times, and Indian Country Today took interest in the gang problem, specifically, and FOTO8 and HUCK Magazine ran more comprehensive essays. As I approached this upcoming journey back to the reservation I wanted to continue on with some of my previous contacts' lives, but also take a step back to work on a portrait series as well as think about the future avenues to take this story. The stories that were published in these publications definitely told a part of the story, but for me it is a much larger story that I find myself drawn to over and over again. It is the story of a culture struggling to hold onto their traditional values and beliefs in an age when many of the youth aren't brought up with those stories, those values. For me it is also a specific story of several individuals as they navigate their way through a divided world of native values clashing with those of western civilization.



Basil Brave Heart, Pine Ridge, SD

Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is located two miles north of the Nebraska border, and about an hour an a half drive from Rapid City, South Dakota and Mount Rushmore. It is a place of hypocrisies and contradictions. On one hand many people of Pine Ridge are afflicted by drugs, alcohol, gang life, health problems, and depression, while on the other hand the very basis for the Lakota way of life is based on respect for one's life, respect for others, and the respect for everything around you. The Lakota believe that they are connected to everything-the wind, the trees, the birds, and even the rocks. While visiting a tribal elder, Basil Brave Heart, he spoke of his grandmother and how she passed these beliefs and values on to him. "Whenever we see something in motion, like these limbs of this tree right now, and the clouds, or the voice of the thunder. All that is the creator. We're related to everything, so we need to have deep reverence and respect for all creation. Whenever I think of my grandma, she lived in a state of grace, almost perpetually. Morning, during the day, in the evening, making prayer."


Lawrence Shot, Wounded Knee, SD


Teenage Girls, Pine Ridge, SD


John Little Bear, Pine Ridge, SD


Jim Wilson, Rapid City, SD


Rich Lone Elk, Pine Ridge, SD


Greg Rowland and Cecelia Jealous of Him, Wounded Knee, SD



I would like to thank all of the wonderful individuals I have crossed paths with on the Pine Ridge Reservation over the years, for offering me a couch to sleep on or a place to set up my tent and for allowing me into your lives. I hope to see you all again soon.

1 comment:

Anne said...

That's so awesome.
I love this post! I hope there come more pictures about the pine ridge reservation!!!