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The new Lakota Studies building at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
The new Lakota Studies building at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Black Elk Was Right

Mar 23, 2012

Our writers and photographers have constantly visited South Dakota's nine Indian reservations throughout our 27 years of publishing. While poverty and other problems obviously plague many — yes, most — of the rural communities, considerable progress has been made in this last generation.

Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, predicted long ago that his people would find new hope in the seventh generation. If his starting point was the arrival of the white man in the mid 19th century, the seventh generation is about at hand — and there is much reason for hope.
In our own travels, we've met many new tribal leaders who seem quite determined to make life better. And in the state capitol in Pierre, a dark-skinned attorney named J.R. LaPlante has been appointed Secretary of Tribal Relations and Governor Dennis Daugaard has asked J.R. to help him and his staff understand the Indian culture and to help them find solutions to lingering problems.
The biggest change we've witnessed on the rez in our one generation of publishing is the development of the tribal colleges. They have brought jobs, role models and opportunities that simply didn't exist. Now, well-educated young Indians have a venue for service and leadership.
Despite the best efforts on our public and private universities, Lakota and Dakota students struggled to graduate in Vermillion and Brookings and Spearfish and the other campuses. In the neighborhood tribal schools, they learn to become nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs and administrators — and once they graduate they fill job needs in the local schools and health care facilities.
The tribal colleges were founded in buildings that would have been condemned on most university campuses. But as they proved their worth — and thanks, obviously, to federal dollars — the schools have constructed innovative and inspiring buildings that would be the envy of any college president. We particularly like some of the new structures at Sinte Gleska on the Rosebud campus. In the northeast, the Sisseton Wahpeton College campus features the architecture of a drum and dancers.
We've watched boys at Red Cloud learn to run and shoot with a basketball, and we've watched young girls dance in fancy regalia at pow wows. Our next issue of South Dakota Magazine has a major article by Herbert T. Hoover, the distinguished historian from USD, on how the tribes kept their old traditions alive while accepting new ways, like basketball.
But perhaps the best gauge for Black Elk's prediction of hope for the seventh generation lies in a statistic reported today by Chris Mueller of the Mitchell Daily Republic. He notes that the average life expectancy in Shannon County (on the Pine Ridge reservation) has risen from 58 to 71 years in just the last 10 years. Though the state average is 77, the progress shown in just 10 years in one of America's poorest counties is notable.
Nobody ever doubted the wisdom of Black Elk. His prophecy is coming true, but only because leaders — especially Indian leaders — persistently work for improvements despite negativity and naysaying both on and off the rez. 


11:43 am - Fri, March 23 2012
Karin Eagle said:
I would love to see Native people write these stories about their own tribes and people, and have publications such as yours actually publish them.
What is written here is beautiful and very special, but I think its time to help our Native people truly come into our own by allowing us to tell our own stories.
Thank you so much for this wonderfully written piece!
11:56 am - Fri, March 23 2012
Richard Flittie said:
I've been able to trace my Lakota ancestry back as far as 1800. My Gr Gr Great Grandmother and my Great Grandmother came to Pine Ridge Agency in 1877 and lived in the area for the rest of their lives. I've always liked Black Elk and he was my first inspiration to learn, understand and live on The Red Road. Reading this pleases me very much as I have friends in Lakota country who work very hard to keep the culture and traditions alive and to honor our Elders and youth. Lila Was'te, Mitakuye Oyasin.
09:53 am - Sat, March 24 2012
mike kohr said:
Severt Young Bear Sr., Calvin Jumping Bull, Nellie Two Bulls, and others at International Brotherhood Days talked often about the importance of how education, understanding, respect, would lead to healing.
It is good to witness that their vision and foresight are being afirmed.
05:56 am - Wed, March 28 2012
Ed Goss said:
Good to see advances on the rez. Also see the article fails to mention the advancement of gambling casino's on the tribes income?
07:07 am - Wed, March 28 2012
Bernie said:
Ed, that's a good point. Regardless of the pros and cons of gambling, the casinos have provided jobs and revenues for projects on the rez -- and at least a taste of capitalism. They are definitely part of the successes of the past generation. I doubt even Black Elk envisioned blackjack has part of the rebirth of his people.
08:32 am - Wed, April 4 2012
Heidi said:
Karin, you might enjoy our contributing online columnist, Vi Waln. She is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She is also the editor for the Lakota Country Times. Here's a link to her columns:
07:16 pm - Wed, March 23 2016
warren "guss" yellow hair said:
Great article thank you for writing something positive about the Rez! I live on the Pine Ridge rez and have been working with a few awesome organizations; First Peoples Fund, their Rolling Rez Arts Mobil unit taking the business of art to each of nine districts, Lakota Fund, Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce and Oglala Lakota college. My daughter Tianna Yellow Hair and I started Tatanka Rez Tourz. We had a excellent first year and looking forward to 2016.
02:10 pm - Sun, March 27 2016
jamtse said:
Red, yellow, black, white....I think Black Elk foresaw also the time when the four major races of the people who have come to this land, will at last live in a time of harmony and wisdom.
It has been challenging getting everyone here, but all the players are indeed here, so the opportunity for this enlightenment is before us.

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