Neleigh Driving Hawk gets help riding her bike down a street with her aunt Mariah in Lower Brule, S.D. (Devin Wagner/Argus Leader)
“There’s also all these positive and beautiful things that you can still live here and have a good life,” - Autumn White Eyes, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation resident now studying at Dartmouth
The Argus Leader debuts today an eight-part print series and dynamic online multimedia presentation, “Growing Up Indian.”
Most South Dakotans can scarcely imagine what it’s like to grow up on an Indian reservation, their website tells readers as we’re introduced to the project. So, AL reporter Steve Young and photographer Devin Wagner (UM photojournalism, ’08) went on their first assignment for the project in January.
Hundreds of hours, thousands of photos and a deeper understanding later, they introduce readers to three central characters in the project, which began its print run today in the AL. Featured prominently as the “first leg” is Neleigh, a 3-year-old whose young mother hopes the best for her little girl.
Also featured is the disturbing story of Marquita Walking Eagle, who was raped and murdered in 2009, paralleled with the inspiring optimism and drive of Gates Millennium Scholar and Dartmouth college student Autumn White Eyes – who says she wants to return to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to make positive change.
“She (Neleigh) faces, basically, one of two options; which are the other two legs of the story,” Wagner told me during a phone interview on Friday.
“(What) we’re trying to do is show our readership what is like to grow up a young Native American. Things that effect them are higher than what in effect you could call normal life,” he said.
Those things include suicide, alcoholism, teen pregnancy and high school dropouts – among others portrayed in the comprehensive GUI project.
Video, photos, live chats, diaries
One of the most exciting aspects of the presentation is its completeness: The eight-part print series is anchored by a huge lineup of multimedia (video, slideshows, guest opinions on hot-button topics), including three video diaries that look into the lives of Native students who taped their own experiences for nearly a year. That portion of the project was created in partnership with the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute and Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
“We want them to tell their story, I don’t care if its Blair Witch Project (style camera work). We just want them to give us some insight on what it’s like to grow up how they grow up,” said Wagner, who mentored the teens throughout the process. “They’ve overcome some obstacles. It’s beautiful to see that they’ve fought such adversity.”
The words, the photos and the voices captured in all of GUI’s content are immense. Wagner, a Crow from Lewistown who spent time “a lot” of time on the Crow Reservation in Montana, said getting to know the Lakota or Sioux people – telling their stories – has been a blessing.
“I was invited into people’s homes, people’s communities, people’s lives. Like I said, these people go through such adversity, yet they are still able to be very humble, be polite. Be hopeful.”
Tags: argus-leader, autumn white eyes, buffalo post, crazy horse memorial foundation, devin wagner, freedom forum diversity institute, Lakota, marquita walking eagle, neleigh driving hawk, pine ridge indian res, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Sioux, South Dakota, steve young