Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, USA
Whiteclay a town of 10 people and four liquor stores that line its main street, Highway 87, sold 4.9 million cans of beer a year and 13,000 cans per day. Mostly to the Oglala Lakotas from the Pine Ridge Reservation, the border is 60 meters away.
Alcohol has been illegal on the Pine Ridge Reservation since it was established in 1889. Tribal members drive, hitchhike, walk across the border or buy alcohol from bootleggers. One of the poorest places in the United States, for the estimated 40,000 people living on the reservation the statistics are devastating: 85% are unemployed; 70% live below the poverty line; second lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere of 47 years for men and 52 years for women. Tribal leaders believe that alcohol is at the root of the serious problems.
At Wounded Knee Cemetery, Martinez visits her father’s grave. He died at age 22 in an alcohol-related car accident when she was an infant. Martinez, 43, has been sober for 18 years. Martinez is part of a network of activists on the Pine Ridge Reservation and with others camped for over a year at the border, blocking delivery trucks and protesting the liquor stores. But Martinez says that alcohol is not the only enemy, “He has brothers-in-arms like methamphetamine and suicide that are swallowing the Oglala Lakota youth fast.”
They found two young children severely neglected and emaciated in a meth house, said Lieutenant Lone Hill. This is what motivated them to form the taskforce to combat meth on the reservation. The Oglala Tribal Police together with Child Protection Service and Oglala Lakota Housing do welfare checks on children and elders on “problem properties” looking for signs of meth. One weekend, they arrested 31 adults, referred 13 children, and boarded up 5 houses until the toxic residue is cleaned up. Lt. Lone Hill says, “We are barely touching one percent of the problem.”
After the powwow where children danced in celebration of the Anniversary of the Wounded Knee Occupation, Martinez recounts the funeral she attended for a 12 year-old girl who committed suicide. “It broke my heart to see this family tie the eagle feather on this meth dealer… He is not a warrior.” Martinez pauses and says, “If you know your family is selling meth stop them… or we will. If you don’t care enough about your bloodline, then we will care enough about your bloodline for you… And if we gain enemies for it so be it… The ancestors will see our actions as honorable.”
In Whiteclay, the four liquor stores closed when the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission did not renew their licenses. The liquor stores appealed in court and lost. On the anniversary of the court’s decision, activists gathered in Whiteclay to face what is next.
Photo copyright: © Darcy Padilla / Agence VU’
Darcy Padilla is a documentary photographer focusing on long-term projects. She is a member of Agence VU’ in Paris and recently joined the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Padilla’s honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Open Society Institute Individual Fellowship, Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship, Alexia Foundation Grant, Getty Images Grant, International Photo-reporter Grant, Canon Female Photojournalist Award, three World Press Photo Awards (first recipient for Long-Term Projects), and a W.Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography.
Published and exhibited internationally, Padilla was commissioned for a year by Le Monde to photograph the U.S. Election. She’s had solo exhibitions at Visa pour l’image (France), International Photo-Reporter Festival (France), Festival Nicéphore (France), Cortona On The Move (Italy), DOCfield Festival (Spain), and “The Julie Project” at the Festival of Ethical Photography. She was a judge on the second season of Sky Arts’ Master of Photography, a television program simulcast to Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The novelist Emmanuel Carrère’s profile on her was included in his collection of essays.
Padilla’s recent book Family Love published in France, follows a family for 21-years — an intimate story of poverty, AIDS and social issues.