Abiding Reservations: Native American Struggle for Identity

Maggie Steber

USA. 1994 – 2004

Native Americans continue to grapple with their place on the North American continent. Yet on autonomous reservations, where many face deep poverty and limited economic opportunity, they teach their children the traditions that have carried them through harsh times: their languages, the songs and dances of their ancestors, and a connection to the land.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee reside on a reservation at the entry to the Great Smoky National Park. Tourists pass through the reservation on the way to the park, and many Natives work during the summer months in tourist-based jobs. Come fall and winter, tourism drops off and many people must head off the reservation to look for work.

That low-wage work is in stark contrast to the situation at the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota reservation in South Dakota, the poorest county in the U.S. Many residents have no access to running water, and while the tribal government delivers water to the most outlying areas of the reservation once each week in winter months harsh weather limits access.