Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - Civic Life & History

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - Civic Life & History

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a Native American reservation that encompasses Oglala Lakota County, the southern half of Jackson County, and the northwest portion of Bennett County in southwestern South Dakota. It is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States.

The reservation has been the location of some of the most significant events in Lakota history. Home to the Oglala Lakota people, it consists of 3,468.86 square miles. The city of Pine Ridge is located in the far south portion of the reservation.

Descended from the Lakota branch of the Great Sioux Nation, the Oglala Sioux inhabited much of present-day western South Dakota, including the Black Hills and the Badlands for generations. They are one of the bands of the Great Sioux Nation who gathered annually for the Sun Dance and to discuss issues of mutual concern.

According to legal historian John Henry Glover, the Oglala people increasingly interacted with European fur traders in the early part of the nineteenth century. The Oglala Sioux signed their first treaty with the U.S. government in 1825, which provided for friendship and trade. Increased incursion by white settlers, however, led to conflict and war by the 1860s.

This conflict was settled with the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which reserved the western half of South Dakota, including the Black Hills, for the following tribes:

  • Lakota
    • Sicangu (Rosebud and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes)
    • Oglala (Oglala Sioux Tribe)
    • Hunkpapa (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe)
    • Sihasapa, O'ohe Nunpa, Miniconjou, Itazipcho (Four bands comprising the present-day Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe)
  • Dakota
    • Iháŋkthuŋwaŋ (Yankton Sioux Tribe) 
    • Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai, present-day Standing Rock Sioux Tribe)
    • Isáŋyathi (Santee Sioux Tribe) 
  • Arapaho 

In 1874, however, George Armstrong Custer, an officer in the United States Army, lead an expedition into the Black Hills. Miners who accompanied him discovered gold and things would never be the same for the Great Sioux Reservation.

The gold discovery led to a flood of prospectors into the Black Hills, sparking tensions between American Indians and white settlers and prospectors. The U.S. government made minimal efforts to enforce the treaty and prevent the influx.

On June 25-26, 1876, after two years of bloody conflict, Lakota and Cheyenne warriors killed 263 members of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry, including Custer, at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (called Greasy Grass by the Lakota) in one of the last armed efforts to preserve their traditional ways. One year later, the United States government confiscated the Black Hills and reduced the Sioux territory in treaties that were forced upon the native people.

In 1889, the Great Sioux Reservation was reduced to six separate reservations, which included Pine Ridge.

Pine Ridge holds an important place in Lakota history. The last Ghost Dance by the Lakota people was held at Stronghold Table, now located inside the Badlands National Park on Pine Ridge.

On Dec. 29, 1890, U.S. Calvary soldiers killed approximately 150 unarmed members of the Miniconjou band of Lakota at Wounded Knee, located on the Pine Ridge reservation. More than half of the dead were women and children.

The reservation was administered by various agents of the federal Office of Indian Affairs until 1934. Following the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act, the Oglala Sioux ratified a constitution and established the federally-recognized government of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on January 15, 1936.

In 1973, Wounded Knee became the location of a second incident when members of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, occupied Wounded Knee for 71 days to protest conditions on the reservation. Two protesters were killed and a federal marshal was paralyzed in the standoff.

For more background on the history of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, see John Henry Glover, Tribal Sovereigns of South Dakota: A Description of Contemporary Sioux Governments (Rapid City: Chiesman Foundation for Democracy, 2005).

Civic Life

Home to approximately 3,500 people, the city of Pine Ridge has a  chamber of commerce, which encourages and supports American Indian-owned businesses.

The Pine Ridge reservation community is also home to several nonprofit service organizations, including Re-Member.  Re-Member organizes visiting groups from churches, high schools, colleges and volunteer organizations to volunteer time on projects in the community. Most groups commit a week.

Tusweca Tiospaye is a Pine Ridge-based nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the Lakota language. Organizers promote the use of Lakota language and tradition in daily living.

Each June, Pine Ridge hosts the annual Oglala Lakota Veterans Powwow at the Pine Ridge Powwow Grounds. Early each August, the Oglala Nation Powwow and Rodeo marks a major community event. For a schedule of powwows, see this website.

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