RAPID CITY, S.D. - As a guest speaker at a luncheon attended by hundreds of tribal and federal officials, author Ian Frazier praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency and spoke of a positive future for the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Frazier, author of "On the Rez," a book about the Pine Ridge Reservation, told people who attended a historic gathering to discuss emergency management on reservations, that FEMA did a remarkable job in Oglala after a disastrous tornado in June 1999 and that possibilities for the future of the Pine Ridge Reservation are extremely good.
"It was a common thought 100 years ago that tribes would fade out and disappear. There was an editorial in the New York Times during that period that said let the (American Indian) have what they wanted, they would be would be gone in a generation," Frazier said.
He said as people see small towns in rural areas diminish in size, Pine Ridge Village has doubled in size over the years. He pointed out that when the general population thought Indian country would disappear, there were only about 100,000 American Indians, but today the Census Bureau reports more than 2.4 million.
"Pine Ridge may be a great power in the middle of the country."
Frazier spent time on Pine Ridge in research for his book. He said when he talks to people he tells the story of SuAnne Big Crow. SuAnne's dream for a peaceful community and her athletic abilities are legendary on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but few people outside the area have heard of her story.
"When a person arrives in the airport at Rapid City, you see a place that is peaceful and sleepy. You wouldn't guess the suffering that takes place just 90 miles to the south. There is a great divide where the life expectancy is 10 years less."
He said that many misconceptions were prevalent about Pine Ridge and the Oglala Lakota people. When the reservation was formed, he said, the history told by the Oglala people indicated they were happy in the Fort Laramie area to the west of the Black Hills.
"So what was so important about moving the Sioux (to the Pine Ridge Reservation)? When you understand the railroads were coming through the land to the west and south, you then understand that General (Phil) Sheridan, who destroyed railroads in the South, didn't want the Lakota people near the new railroads."
He added that big ideas about how to deal with American Indians failed. As examples he used the Allotment Act as a prime example and the largest of the failed policies of the federal government. "That was a disaster."
Other failed big ideas were the attempt to destroy the language, termination and relocation of the 1950s. "They caused more problems than they solved. The one-size-fits-all solution didn't work."
Frazier spoke before a crowd of people gathered to strengthen the bonds and partnership between federal agencies and tribal governments. The meeting was organized by FEMA and attended by other agencies that help during disasters. Tribal chairpersons and federal officials entered into an agreement to form a council of tribes that will work in a cooperative manner to solve emergency and disaster problems through the federal government. A new policy exists among the 28 tribes in the six-state FEMA region VIII area.