Ever been to the Badlands?
Not the Sissy Spacek movie.
They’re called that for a reason. Summer or winter, they’re a bad place to be. The climate is unpredictable and extreme, as in -40°F to 116°F, and you can look forward to the thunderstorms and blizzards.
Steep slopes, loose dry soil, slick clay, and deep sand. Lots of fossils, so people who hate the idea of evolution must also hate the place. The Lakota knew they were looking at fossils, that the area must have been underwater at some time and the petrified bones and turtle shells they found belonged to species that no longer existed.
I’ve been to the Badlands. Once during one of those childhood excursions where your dad decides you just have to drive two thousand miles in a week. The station wagon was a lovely dental gold color, unbearably hot in the summer. There was a pop-up camper and we camped. I remember mosquitos the size of sheep near the lakes of Minnesota. There were little boxes of cereal for breakfast and my mom had a red plaid thermos full of coffee.
The second time was in winter. My seven siblings and I were crammed into a different station wagon, but Rose had the same plaid thermos. I was five. I have never been so cold.
I remember the wind. There’s that old saying: An ill wind blows no good. Well, a South Dakota wind blows right into you and takes your breath with it. Especially in winter.
South of the Badlands sits the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I’ve been there, too.
Pine Ridge is bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. I'd call it a hellhole, but hell has better roads, especially that big one paved with those intentions.
Population about 28,787. Eighth largest reservation in the United States and the poorest. Unemployment on the reservation hovers around 80%, and 49% of the people live below the poverty level. Adolescent suicide is four times the national average. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewer. Life expectancy is about 47 years for men and in the low 50s for women. The infant mortality rate is five times the national average.
Annual income is less than $3,500. There are no jobs and almost no infrastructure. Most people have to walk to get where they’re going—summer and winter—and people die when they get lost. (AIM leader Anna May Pictou Aquash 's body was found by the side of State Road 73 about 10 miles from Wanblee, South Dakota. Medical practitioner W. O. Brown determined she died of exposure. He somehow missed the .32 caliber bullet hole in the back of her head.)
The people there got nothing but that crazy wind.
But they’re standing up for themselves. And in the process standing up for everybody else. Brenda Norrell’s Censored News reports:
Debra White Plume, released from jail in Kyle, South Dakota, said Monday night, "Alex [White Plume], myself, Sam Long Black Cat, Andrew Iron Shell and Terrell Eugene Iron Shell were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct."
"We formed a blockade to stop tarsands oil mine equipment from passing our lands…There were about 50 to 75 people on the blockade at the village of Wanbl[ee] in Eagle Nest District on the northern side of the Pine Ridge rez."
Debra White Plume said the trucks were coming from Texas and going to Alberta, Canada to the tarsands oil mine.
"They said their office in Canada made the route with the State of South Dakota to cross the Pine Ridge rez in order to avoid paying the state of South Dakota $50,000 per truck," Debra White Plume said.
"There were about 75 people on the blockade, people brought pots of soup, frybread, cases of water, doughnuts, soda, and parked their cars to join the blockade. The oldest woman there was Marie Randall, another elder was Renabelle Bad Cob who came in her WHEELCHAIR and participated in the blockade."
Let me take a moment to give respect: old women, you are badasses.
"The tribal police took us to jail. Our lawyer Sonny Richards did the paperwork to get us out of jail. The tribal police had to let the trucks get off the rez. They escorted them to the reservation line.”
This morning the DJ from KILI, the only radio station in the area, played “Folsom Prison Blues” in honor of those arrested. Johnny Cash. It’s the right name and it leads to something else: these people are going to need some help. Not help with guts because they got that. Not help with clarity because they got that, too. They’re going to need financial help: money for bail and bonds and lawyers. And for more than just a donut or a plaid thermos of coffee.