Oglala Lakota’s Struggle for Fresh Water


By Steven Boyd:

Although many see water contamination as a global problem, one does not have to travel farther than the South Dakota to realize its effect on indigenous communities. Pollution is the main factor for the Oglala Lakota’s water sources, mainly around the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “At least 60% of the homes are severely substandard, without water, electricity, adequate insulation, and sewage system” (American Indian Humanitarian Foundation).  Water contamination is a life threatening issue that the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge deal with on a daily basis.

Not having access to non polluted water is lowering the standard of living for the Lakota people each and every year. “Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the second lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate” (Re-Remember). The United States government has taken no action on this issue to promote life expectancy in this region by tackling the water problem. The inhabitants of Pine Ridge are compelled to decide whether to maximize the few resources available to them to import clean water, to use contaminated water, or to leave their homes.

Many who lack the resources to import water choose use contaminated water over leaving their home, the side-effects of water contamination are now becoming evident.  “Today, key water supplies dotting the Pine Ridge reservation carry arsenic, alpha radiation and other contaminant levels up to 18 times the legal limit, according to water tests conducted by Energy Laboratory, an independent, EPA-certified analytical laboratory in Rapid City, S.D. Fifty-eight percent of the private wells, springs and soils tested on Pine Ridge in June and July shows positive results for contaminate arsenic, lead, and/or various forms of radiation” (Native Daughters). The Sioux also face contamination from the fish that are contaminated in their waters. In 1889 the United States government forcibly moved the Oglala Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and their lack of regulations led to the contamination of its water. By way of treaty, the Oglala Lakota will continue to suffer from the side effects of contaminated water until the U.S. Government steps in to live up to its treaty obligations.

White Plume is an Oglala Lakota environmental activist unexpectedly became sick. In her words, this was her story, “She flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and underwent 13 surgeries, including the removal of her appendix and a benign tumor, all connected to an arterial aneurys. Comatose. Life Support. Several weeks later, still groggy from the medical procedures, White Plume returned home to find a South Dakota state health official testing her water supply. Her illness, the official confirmed, required this sort of testing. ‘So apparently someone, somewhere thought the illness that I had was triggered by something environmentally contaminating me,’ she says.” (Native Daughters).

With water being the staple to which all of life begins, a resource that every living being needs to survive, it is easy to tie illness and side effects into a situation that does not include clean water.  If these effects were being seen with one person from Pine Ridge Reservation, it could just as easily happen to any Oglala Lakota who is also taking in this water. This contamination of water would more than likely lead to many other cases of illness within the tribe and reservation. “Meanwhile, three of her grandchildren were having unexplained seizures. Other women were giving birth to Down Syndrome babies. Babies with shortened umbilical cords. Sudden infant death syndrome. Everything seemed out of proportion” (Native Daughters). The water contamination could very possibly be leading to the illness and death of newborn babies whose mother has been using the water that they were forced to use living on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The United States government needs to step in and make sure that its citizens are provided with fresh water that will not cause them illness or side effects. With few resources and less opportunity, the people are forced to live at a standard of living that is much less than the rest of the people in the United States.

This is a problem that is spreading through all of the United States. Natives struggle for water. A very well known example is the Dakota Access Pipeline. “The pipeline runs overwhelmingly along private land, but where it crosses bodies of water, federal rules come into play and federal approvals are required” (Occupying the Prairie:Tensions Rise as Tribes Move to Block a Pipeline, New York Times). Native Americans from all over the United States were outraged when they found out the water of another Native American tribe could be in danger. This fire should also be lit when it comes to Oglala Lakota living on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It is cruel to believe that any group of people can be expected to prosper without the most basic of needs being met. The American government needs to know that Native Tribes, including the Oglala Dakota, not only think of water as sacred and the most pure form of life, but something must be done about the contamination that already exists and the contamination that may be caused in the future. This is the only way that the survival of an indigenous people can be guaranteed.  If the United States government will listen to the cries of indigenous people like the Oglala Lakota who are suffering and struggling in the battle for water, there would be an increase in healthy Native Americans all over the United States.  The Oglala Lakota are in a battle for their future and lives do to their water that they are exposed to each day. Without help from the American Government, the Oglala Lakota may never recover from the harmful side effects that they are exposed to each and every day due to the lack of water clean or their consumption to the water. Without some sort assistance or plan to filter the water that these people are taking in each and every day, there is no way that negative side effects of polluted water can be depleted.


Works Cited

Healy, Jack. “Occupying the Prairie: Tensions Rise as Tribes Move to Block a Pipeline.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

“Natives Struggle to Stay One with the Land.” Native Daughters Natives Struggle to Stay One with the Land Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

“Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” Re-Member. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

“Pine Ridge Statistics.” Pine Ridge Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

About the author: Brian King

Brian D. King lives in Oklahoma and is a writer and blogger who studies and teaches English. He earned his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Brigham Young University, and he is currently working on his graduate degree in English in Oklahoma.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.