The Lakota Lands Recovery Project (LLRP) is a grassroots support organization that serves the region of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The LLRP is working to support grassroots organizations on Pine Ridge that are working to reclaim and consolidate tribal lands and access the resources needed for the Lakota people to live on, protect, and utilize it, helping to return the balance between economy, ecology, and culture.
Home of the Oglala Lakota Nation, the Pine Ridge Reservation was established during the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and encompasses a territory of approximately 2 million acres of the Northern Great Plains in southwest South Dakota. With a population of over 26,000, the Reservation exists today as one of the poorest places in the United States and lags far behind other parts of the United States in virtually all standards of human well-being. The historical legacy of forcefully alienating people from their allotted lands has contributed to the unequal land-use patterns on Pine Ridge today, where 20 people control nearly 46% of the land base. It has also had a significant economic impact for tribal members. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture for American Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers.
Protection and control of land and natural resources is one on the most pressing issues for indigenous people across the globe and is no different for the Oglala Lakota. Currently nearly 60% of the Pine Ridge Reservation is being leased out by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), often times to non-tribal members, with the tribal land owners only receiving 50 cents to $3.00 an acre per year. These rents are far below current market values. According to the South Dakota State University Farm Real Estate Survey, the average rental rates in this region of South Dakota for non-irrigated cropland is $23.10 and $10.00 an acre for rangeland. Despite the fact that their lands have been in the federal leasing system for several generations, over 70% of families on the reservation would like to live on and utilize their allotted lands. This situation is the result of a long history of discriminatory land policies enacted by the United States Government. Policies designed to open up reservation lands and resources to outside interests rather than local self-reliance.
The unequal land-use has also contributed to the highly insecure food economy on Pine Ridge today which is heavily dependent on Federal commodities and highly processed foods. Despite the fact that there is a great deal of agricultural production taking place on and around the reservation, the majority of foods are shipped in hundreds or even thousands of miles, only 3% come from wild foods – local vegetable production is not even significant enough to represent here.
The lack of availability of healthy foods has contributed to the unprecedented rates of food related disease among Tribal members living on the Reservation. According to recent research done on the Pine Ridge Reservation by Benjamin Jewell and Kathleen Pickering from Colorado State University; “more than 71% of households are impacted by dietary diseases.”
In support of the land recovery and restoration, Village Earth is supporting the restoration of the traditional ecology, economy and culture surrounding the buffalo. In 2004 Village Earth initiated an Adopt-A-Buffalo Campaign to help purchase buffalo for families on the Pine Ridge wanting to sustainably utilize their lands. To date, we have helped restore over 90 head of buffalo, creating two new herds and expanding two existing herds on the reservation. We have also helped to establish a marketing cooperative to assist with processing, marketing, and sale of buffalo raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation (See http://www.lakotabuffalocaretakers.org). Furthermore, by supporting the highest standards for care and management of the buffalo and the land, the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative is setting a positive example on and off the reservation.
Land Consolidation and Land Use
One of the biggest obstacles to land reform on the Pine Ridge Reservation today is the lack of information available for tribal members about their lands, the opportunities that exist, and the procedures for doing things like consolidating fractionated lands, partitioning undivided lands, and creating wills. Village Earth has sought to lessen these obstacles by providing training workshops across the reservation, providing one-on-one consultations with families, advocating on the behalf of allottees, and developing the Strategic Land Planning Map Book, a valuable tool for allottees to locating their lands and identify the options and procedures for recovering, protecting, utilizing and managing those lands.