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The average life expectancy on Pine Ridge is decades lower than in surrounding states.
But there is a new beacon of hope in this bleak landscape—a sign of progress for many who have grappled with the many entrenched challenges facing the town and the Oglala Sioux overall.
Federal laws still apply on the reservation, however.
The General Crimes Act allows federal authorities such as the FBI to enforce serious offense sanctions in federal court; and the Indian Civil Rights Act as well as habeas corpus laws protect tribal members from unwarranted imprisonment.
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, seems not to be a sleepy town, but a tired town—tired of poverty, tired of crime, tired of early mortality, and tired being the token counter-example to the thriving Native American nation.
The reservation lies in one of the two poorest counties in the United States.
The tribal government creates, enforces, and adjudicates laws pertaining selectively to native people on the confines of the reservation.
Trailer homes line the road into this tiny town, their feeble tin sheet roofs held fast by old tires.Just hundreds of feet from the border with Nebraska, a broad, bold sign with white lettering in English identifies a new landmark on the reservation: “Justice Center for the People.” At the bay window entry of the roughly 93,000 square foot circular structure, the same sign in Lakota reads, “Oyate Ki Woope Ogna Tipi.” Here, visitors are welcomed to the roughly .2 million facility, which will house new courtrooms, a short-term correctional holding facility, offices for law enforcement and justice officials, and a “peacemaking” room for family and group disputes.“It was a building that we had been waiting for…for me, since 1982,” says former chief of police and current tribal representative Ron Duke.The new center is a “one-stop shop;” new courtrooms for arraignment procedures are now a short walk away from a 144-bed correctional facility.“[Before,] we had four judges trying to share one courtroom,” says Kevin Yellow Bird Steele, spokesman for the Tribal Council.