The struggle for Native Americans to get water in South Dakota

The struggle for Native Americans to get water in South Dakota

Posted By Paul G March 1st, 2020 Last Updated on: March 1st, 2020

Shockingly, many residents of the Pine Ridge Native reservation in South Dakota are still waiting for running water. While many in the community do not have running water at the moment, some residents claim to never have had it in their entire lives living in Pine Ridge.

A government program to pipe water throughout South Dakota’s reservations, which began in 1988, ran out in 2013, leaving residents without running water. The lack of effort by the government left those on reservations feeling frustrated and hopeless, as well as established an unfortunate sense of distrust.



Pine Ridge is a small town mainly consisting of the Oglala Lakota people. Currently, 54 percent of the people live in poverty and have the lowest life expectancy in the United States. The median average income in the town is over $30,000 less than the average South Dakota resident.

The lack of resources isn’t holding them back!

How are they surviving?

Residents use large buckets to haul water back and forth from a main source of water, such as a river or stream. 

Grace, an elderly woman who lives in a mobile home with her grandson, stated in a CNN interview that a 5-gallon bucket of water will only last her a few hours; she uses this water to bathe, do the dishes and laundry, and for drinking water. The lack of running water has affected her in many ways and she has not had running water in over a decade. Grace states that she has to do it all herself as she has no choice…there is no one to help her. 

Ken Lone Elk is a water coordinator for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, which is a non-profit that helps Native individuals and families get what they need to live—‘this includes connecting homes to running water for free.’ 



The community is absolutely grateful for Ken and what he does for them. 

Ken’s efforts go back to the ’80s when he was on a project with the government to pipe water across South Dakota to reservations. Unfortunately, the project ended in 2013 and was never completed. This didn’t stop Ken. He continued to work for the people and began connecting individuals to the main water line. 

Read about the project on Running Strong for Indian Youth.

“The need is so big but the resources are so small.”

Valentina Merdanian, the Oglala District Representative says that Running Strong is bringing hope (to Pine Ridge)….that glimpse of hope. 

Having running water is not only helping increase the life expectancy in the area but also helping to boost the economy. 

There is more optimism within the Pine Ridge community; people are helping people, which is a cornerstone of what the Oglala stands for. With continued perseverance and hard work, Pine Ridge has a bright future ahead of them…and a lot of showers and baths. 




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2 thoughts on “The struggle for Native Americans to get water in South Dakota

  1. DeeAnne Hubbard says:

    Hi Paul. I was wanting to know how people can help with the water problems. My friend is a plumber but he is not working. What can we do to help with this. Willing to help with labor.

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