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Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Verified and accurate statistics can be hard to come by here on the reservation, and only paint a partial picture of the realities endured by the residents of the communities on Pine Ridge.

The Pine Ridge Reservation occupies the entirety of Oglala Lakota (formerly Shannon) County, the southern half of Jackson County and Bennett County. The total land area of the Reservation is 2.1 million acres, with 1.7 million acres held in trust by the United States government. By land area, the reservation is the seventh-largest in the country.

Lowest and Last

The Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the lowest life expectancy, and a number of the poorest communities in the United States.

The average life expectancy on Pine Ridge is 66.81 years, the lowest in the United States. Other statistics, attributed to the Pine Ridge hospital, cite an average life expectancy for men of just 47 years. Women fare slightly better, with an average life expectancy of 55 years.

There are 3,143 counties in the United States. Oglala Lakota County, contained entirely within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation, has the lowest per capita income ($8,768) in the country, and ranks as the "poorest" county in the nation.

Oglala Lakota County ranked last in the state of South Dakota for quality of life and health behaviors.

Population and Demographics

The population of the reservation is constantly in-flux. Depending on availability of resources (e.g., access to food, transportation and utilities), a house may domicile more than a dozen individuals. The following numbers are indicative of the challenges in capturing accurate data:

18,834 individuals were recorded as living on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the 2010 U.S. Census. The vast majority (16,906) identified as American Indian.

The South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations reports a total tribal enrollment of 38,332, with 19,639 living on the reservation.

The Department of the Interior reports a "Service Area population" for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Reservation of 32,152.

42.4% of the population was identified as being younger than 20 years old in the 2010 U.S. Census. By comparison, the state of South Dakota average for this demographic is 27.8%.

The median age on Pine Ridge is 25.4 years; 24.6 for men, and 26 for women.

19.8% of the population was identified as being older than 50 years old. The South Dakota average for this demographic is 33.8%.

Labor Force and Income

An 89% unemployment rate was identified in a 2005 Department of the Interior report. With a labor force of 29,539 in the tribe (not specifically the reservation), just 3,131 were employed. The Department of the Interior has since ceased producing estimates of "unemployment."

Per capita income for American Indians living on Pine Ridge is $7,773. The average for all reservations is $10,543. The United States average is $27,599.

The median household income is $26,721 for American Indians living on Pine Ridge Reservation. The United States average is $53,482.

Poverty Rate

The officially reported poverty rate for American Indians living on Pine Ridge is 53.75%. The United States average is 15.6%.

Many assessments, drawing from sources other than U.S. Census data and government tabulations place the actual poverty rate in excess of 80% of the reservation's population.

Two of the five "poorest communities in America" are located on the Pine Ridge Reservation:

  • Allen (#1)
  • Wounded Knee (#4)


The school drop-out rate is over 70%. 28.7% of the native population of Pine Ridge Reservation reports having attained a high school diploma, GED or alternative. 10.7% of the native population reports having attained a bachelor's degree or higher.

Health and Wellness

Oglala Lakota County ranked 59-out-of-60 counties in South Dakota for overall health outcomes in 2017.

One in four children born on Pine Ridge are diagnosed with either Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Statistics produced by the Oglala Sioux Tribe paint a bleak picture about the health of the reservation:

  • Tuberculosis: 800% higher than America as a whole
  • Infant mortality: 300% higher than America as a whole
  • Teen suicide: 150% higher than America as a whole
  • Approximately 85% of Lakota families are affected by alcoholism
  • Approximately 58% of grandparents of Lakota families are raising their grandchildren
  • Approximately 50% of adults over the age of 40 have diabetes