No. 3080, Oglala Lakota County, SD

Photos of Oglala Lakota County (formerly known as Shannon County), SD, which is ranked by the New York Times among the hundred hardest places to live in America.

I spent my first couple of hours driving around Oglala Lakota kind of awkwardly, unsure of where to stop and how to behave. All the while, I listened to 90.1 KILI FM, the Lakota station. The DJ’s voice sounded a little bit New Mexican (he’s not New Mexican, he’s Lakota all the way) and it was soothing to hear a familiar cadence in an otherwise totally foreign place. Not long after I left Red Shirt and started heading towards Wounded Knee, he mentioned that “the door is always open at KILI FM.”

It seemed only natural to stop by and talk with him, and the radio station was in Porcupine, which was on my way anyway. DJ and Production Coordinator Derrick Janis and I talked for about an hour and a half– covering a whole span of local issues and ideas. He said a lot that stuck with me, and it was hard to choose what to focus on, but I think the thing that impressed me most, and the thing that strikes me as most important, is the Lakota Nation’s commitment to their children.

Derek told about the challenges faced by local kids, particularly the suicide epidemic among them. Determined to do something about it, he raised the funds to organize Community Socials over the summer, with music and food and door prizes, so that they could remind the kids how important and loved and valuable they are. “They are our future,” he explained.

Later, Pine Ridge Council Member Rich Greenwald echoed this sentiment as he supervised a crew clearing off the basketball court at the Pine Ridge Park. Greenwald is working with local churches and companies to add to the resources available by building a rec center where kids will be able to spend time after school.

In any community, it is easy to get bogged down by challenges and suffering, especially in a place that has seen so much. It takes great strength to live instead with an eye towards a better future, and to actively work, every day, to improve the situation.

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