The Pine Ridge Reservation is located in the southwest corner of South Dakota and is comprised of approximately 2.7 million acres in all of Shannon County, the southern half of Jackson County, and the northwest portion of Bennett County. Home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Pine Ridge Reservation is the eighth largest reservation in the United States with a landmass larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Extensive off-reservation trust lands are scattered throughout Bennett County and extend into Sheridan County, Nebraska. In all, there are about 1.8 million acres of trust land.
Politically, the reservation is divided into nine districts, including:
- Eagle Nest
- La Creek
- Medicine Root
- Pass Creek
- Pine Ridge
- White Clay
- Wounded Knee
Major communities include the tribe’s administrative center, Pine Ridge, as well as, Kyle, Wanblee, Allen, Porcupine, Oglala, Red Shirt, and Wounded Knee.
According to recent Census figures, the population of the Pine Ridge Reservation is 16,617 with 14,865 (89.5%) of the residents identifying themselves as American Indian. However, data on the reservation is limited and conflicting, and other sources estimate the reservation’s population to range from 28,000 to 40,000. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognizes 31,685 American Indian/Alaska Native residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 83.9% percent of residents on the reservation have completed a high school education, while only 18.2% have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. Other data points a 70% drop out rate on the reservation and a teacher turnover rate 800% of the national average.
In Shannon County, the nation’s third poorest county and also where the majority of tribal members live, 51.6% of the population lives below the poverty level. As a whole, the Pine Ridge Reservation suffers from a 43.9% poverty rate – nearly three times higher than state and national figures. The per capita income is $7,887, and median household income is $26,800.
Recent figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate the unemployment rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation to be 22.7%, but a study conducted by the Department of Interior in 2005 indicates a much higher unemployment rate of 89%. In contrast, the State of South Dakota boasts a mere 4% unemployment rate.
The economy on the Pine Ridge Reservation is heavily weighted by the government and institutional markets. There are an estimated 5,900 employed individuals residing on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It is estimated that over half are employed by the federal, state, tribal, and local government.
The most recent US Census data shows a total of 883 non-farm businesses on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Of those, 176 (20%) have employees, and the remaining 707 (80%) are non-employee establishments. The 176 private non-farm establishments employ a total of over 2,700 individuals. Top industries are retail, accommodation and food, construction, and information.
There are 692 farms encompassing the three-county area of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Top agricultural products in the area are cattle, hay, wheat, and winter wheat. The average size of a farm in this area is 4,324 acres. Each farm’s average market value of products sold is $214,350. Of all the agricultural sales in the area, 33% are crop sales and 67% are livestock sales. Each farm incurs an average of $168,843 in annual production expenses, and has a net cash farm income of $80,584. The vast majority – 637 (92%) – of principal operators are male with an average age of 57. Of the total 692 principal operators in the area, only 206 (30%) are Native American.