Watch from 13:06 to the end for a nice synopsis of Huey’s main points…
At a young age, we are taught that this country we live in is your land just as much as it is mine. At a 2010 TED Talk, photographer and social activist Aaron Huey reminds us that this is not necessarily true. Only a few hundred years ago, this land was not ours, but that of the indigenous peoples we refer to as Native Americans. Today, these peoples are all but extinct, and those that remain are stranded in the worst of poverty on reservations.
The images that Huey shows and the statistics he speaks of are frightening. Year after year, our forefathers broke treaty after treaty until the Natives became what they are today. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, known as “ground zero” for Indian rights, the Lakota tribe sits atop a hotbed of alcoholism, violence, and some of the worst health and economic status in the entire country—and world. The life expectancy for males living on Pine Ridge is equal to that of Somalia. And yet, we turn a blind eye to these troubles. Even worse, America turns a blind eye to the upsetting history of the white conqueror and the Native American as a whole.
Huey points to the ultimate idea that America should relinquish its hold over the Black Hills and return them to the Sioux. By law, by right, and by ethical reasoning, it is their land, not ours. I don’t know that this will ever happen—realistically it will not, and I don’t necessarily think that it should. But I think that sometimes, as Americans, we aren’t cynical enough about who we are as a country and what we learn in school. We are taught that our country’s history was filled with heroes who made the United States the best country in the world. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln never told a lie, and the American Revolution was won solely by farmers with pitchforks fighting for freedom against an unjust and tyrannical monarchy. (Do we really think it happened that way)? No one likes to talk about that time we destroyed—and some would prefer the term genocide—an entire indigenous race.
I’m proud to be an American. But we need to embrace our past, not ignore the parts that we wish didn’t happen.
Click here to view some more of Huey’s moving photography capturing some of the poverty of the Pine Ridge Reservation.