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Pine Ridge Reservation
February 23rd, 2012

Pine Ridge ReservationPine Ridge Reservation, A year ago this month, I made my first trip to the Pine Ridge reservation. There is always a sense of excitement of landing on the track, knowing that a new world, one that otherwise would never have the opportunity to explore so intimately, almost within reach.

Like the rest of the team, who had read the statistics: 65 to 80 percent unemployment rates, rampant alcoholism, obesity and an education system struggling to provide basic tools for learning.

Two flights and a two hours later, I was driving through the Badlands, a purse, a camera and plenty of curiosity. On the way to Manderson, SD, a town with fewer than 650 inhabitants, where more than 60 percent of whom live below the poverty line, to drive through miles of plains. The earth speaks, telling a story of oppression and resistance, I begin to understand better after spending days and weeks with parents and children, elders and spiritual leaders.

Outside, the public housing units were used, between 30 and 40 years of age. A young father, no more than 23, he said he was covering windows with plastic sheeting to keep the propane heat indoors. He said the windows were installed upside down and the family often runs out of money and can not afford to pay for heat. Even told me that the heat was a luxury, and some months have to choose between feeding their family of five and have heat.

Within the approximately 300 square miles of the reservation are a handful of Oglala Lakota Sioux, whose spirit of pride, courage and delicate, will change the way I see many things. Trip after trip, I was welcomed into homes. I’ve been told I am family. I meet with educators. A spiritual leader sends me back to New York with braided sweet grass to bring positive energy to my house. I am tainted, purified by the burning of sage, invited to attend meals and surprise POWs. I want to know the history and strength of a people, the reality and value, but what touches me most are the children.

Through smiles and tears, hope and innocence, no power in young people – all desperate in their own way, to be heard. Thirteen-year-old Robert to become the first president of Native American and buy his grandmother who raised him and his cousins ??seven years, a beautiful home. Tashin, 6, wants clean water for your family and chewing gum. Louise, 12, struggles to cope with addiction at home and pray for the strength to go ahead and 17 years old, Alaina sings with courage through the chapter of his life is going and another coming in is.

It is easy to speculate why the desperation often overshadows the value when it comes to Pine Ridge reservation, but anyone who is given the opportunity to be immersed in Lakota culture, to see firsthand the humor and love, can not left unchanged.

View a “20/20? Special,” a hidden America: Children of the Plains “with Diane Sawyer tonight at 10 pm ET.

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