From the first page of On The Rez:
This book is about Indians, particularly the Oglala Sioux who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, in the plains and badlands in the middle of the United States. People want to know what a book is about right up front, I have found. They feel this way even if the book does not yet exist, if it is only planned. When I describe the subject to non-Indians, they often reply that it sounds bleak. "Bleak" is the word attached in many people's minds to the idea of certain Indian reservations, of which the Oglala's reservation is perhaps the best example. Oddly, it is a word I have never heard used by Indians themselves.The point of this book, I think, is to show that even though life is hard on the reservation, it isn't bleak. There is hope, these are people living their lives, and to compose one note tragedy stories on the news does a disservice.
Frazier recounts the story of SuAnne Big Crowe, star basketball player. Even though her life was cut short due to a car accident, her existence didn't seem bleak. The same week her team won regionals, while the entire rez was riding high from the victory, NBC ran a story called Tragedy at Pine Ridge, where (page 226):
NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw announced, "This is Thanksgiving week, of course, but on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota it's hard to find reason to give thanks, when tragedy is never out of season."Of course, the success of the high school girl's basketball team was not mentioned. Or anything good about life on the reservation. And that's pretty much the crux of the problem. Page 227:
Indeed, from the beginning of the report to the end, NBC did not find one good thing to say; the "bleakness" story is a rigorous form, with little room for extraneous details. [...] the NBC story irritated people on Pine Ridge no end, especially SuAnne. She talked to anyone who would listen about all the good on the reservation that NBC had overlooked, and about the unfairness of only showing the suffering and apparently hopeless side.The cool thing about now is that when Frazier mentions the Boys and Girls club on the reservation, started in memory of SuAnne Big Crow, I can look it up on the internet immediately. The book was published in 2000, before the last recession. I had a sinking feeling; please, please don't let this have gone under. And it hasn't!
So not everything is bleak. Things are rough, yeah, but its not tragedy 24/7.
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