Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Toward what future?

Three-year-old Neleigh Driving Hawk is described by those who’ve met her as a charming child, bright-eyed and filled with life and joy. But she lives on a reservation in South Dakota, where — as is all too common in the rural ghettos in which Native Americans unwilling to surrender their heritage have been warehoused — she is surrounded by scenes of poverty, homelessness, alcoholism, violence, despair and epidemic suicide.

Neleigh Driving Hawk rides her bicycle, but to what destination?

Neleigh rides her bicycle, with a bit of help from her aunt Mariah, down a street in Lower Brule, South Dakota. But where will the ride through life lead her?
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As proven by 19-year-old recent high school graduate Autumn White Eyes, who survived a childhood spent sleeping on a couch and subsisting upon an unhealthful diet of government-supplied commodities, but is now bound for Dartmouth College, it is possible to transcend this poisoned environment and build a life of real hope. But against this there is the counterexample of MarQuita Walking Eagle, who at age 19 was killed by her 17-year-old boyfriend — brain-damaged by fetal alcohol syndrome and unable to control his temper — in a drink-fueled dispute last November.

What lies in Neleigh’s future? Of course, it ultimately depends in part on her: Can she resist the pressures of reservation life — the alcohol and other drugs, the violence, the teenage sex and pregnancy, the crushing despair of feeling trapped in a kind of hell — and find her way out, like Autumn? Or do we ask too much: that a person in such conditions make a superhuman effort, sustained over many years, that only a very few are strong enough, and have enough support from their families and community, to achieve?

Either way, this is an unspeakable disgrace. No one should have to endure such soul-sapping horrors; and that we as a society routinely impose them upon the people whose land the ancestors of our ruling elite took from them by force and fraud is an indictment that we cannot easily answer.

All that we can do today is this: Apply political pressure wherever and however we can, until our lawmakers see this multigenerational Holocaust for what it is and end it. Or, if we cannot find in them a trace of conscience, we must protest like Egyptians until all those whose sleep is never disturbed by guilt for the atrocities they callously perpetuate have been forever driven from power.

Originally published as a review of an article on reservation life in South Dakota.

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