“A Hidden America: Children of the Plains” (2011) was a White American television documentary about four children who live at Pine Ridge, a Lakota Sioux Indian reservation in south-western South Dakota. The show appeared on ABC as part of “20/20″. It was hosted by Diane Sawyer.
One of the children tried to hang herself at age 11. She drew a picture of it complete with a broken heart. Her mother is being destroyed by drink. Her bedroom is too cold to sleep in. She showed Diane Sawyer all her clothes – on three hangers. She does well at school and wants to become a schoolteacher, teaching children Lakota.
Families: Most parents are absent or hooked on drugs and drink. Most are out of work. Uncles and grandparents try to hold things together. People live in falling-apart, ill-heated houses. In one three-bedroom house there were 19 people.
Schools: lack money and are falling apart too. One school they showed still had asbestos, which causes cancer. What little money they get has to go to books, computers and teachers.
Food: The free food the government sends is not healthy. Half the people have diabetes. Most Lakota Indians never see 60. For many children their only solid meal is at school. When a Subway sandwich shop opened one women was amazed by the cucumbers: fresh vegetables are that expensive.
Businesses: There are no banks or malls or cinemas. The few businesses there are more regulated than a nuclear power plant.
Liquor stores: Just outside the reservation stand four liquor stores. Together they sell 4 million cans of beer a year. They are owned by outsiders.
The show was excellent:
- Visibility: American television almost never shows Indian reservations – or other poor places in America that are far from Hollywood and New York. In American society Native Americans are out of sight, out of mind.
- Large audience: ABC can easily pull in millions of viewers, unlike PBS or YouTube.
- Material help: The show gave viewers ways to help Pine Ridge – and some have. The show even helped one of the children find his father.
But it was terrible too:
- Teflon history: Near the beginning Diane Saywer said, “But tonight is not about history.” We are given almost no way to understand what we are seeing, like the drunken men sleeping on sidewalks. Just passing references to broken treaties, boarding schools and such.
- Helpless darkies: You hear little about what the Lakota have been doing and are doing to make things better.
- White gaze: This show was made by and for white people. It would have been ten times better if Diane Sawyer had just walked down the street and let people speak their minds. Or what about segments written and produced by people from Pine Ridge? Where is the Lakota gaze?
- Do not talk to the old people: Except for Diane Sawyer herself, everyone over the age of 30 appears only briefly and almost accidentally. As if Sawyer is not particularly interested in understanding what is going on.
- ABC: A Hidden America: Children of the Plains – watch the show (41 minutes)
- YouTube: More than that... – a video made by Lakota schoolchildren in answer to the documentary
- The Sioux today
- race and crime and poverty and television
- white gaze
- Teflon Theory of History
- black pathology
- The lies you were taught about Native Americans