SuAnne Big Crow was furious after she watched an NBC broadcast about the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1981. "They came here and showed all of the terrible things and did not bother to show any of the good things," she said.
Big Crow was a star basketball player, and a proud defender of her homelands. She was only 17 and she could not understand how a supposedly sophisticated news network could be so negative. She was too young to realize that NBC was more interested in the shock effect of the show and not the accuracy. Tragedy drew more viewers than happiness.
Big Crow died in an automobile accident before she even had a chance to live and to fight for all of the ideas she had crammed into her head. She envisioned a place where Lakota children could go, a place where they would be safe and happy. In fact, in her mind she called it "Happy Town."
After her death, her mother, Chick Big Crow, decided to make the dream of her daughter a reality. She contacted the corporate executives of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and made them a pitch. They came out to Pine Ridge and made an assessment and granted Ms. Big Crow the first Boys and Girls Club franchise to be established on an Indian reservation. It was named the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club and it has had to struggle to survive these many years, and yet it is still providing that safe and happy atmosphere that SuAnne dreamed about.
SuAnne would have been equally upset if she saw the latest network broadcast of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Inaccurate? How about blatantly wrong and contrived? ABC's Dianne Sawyer came to the reservation wearing the usual network blinders. For example; the chief of police was asked about alcoholism on the reservation. He replied that 80 percent of the arrests he makes are alcohol related. How did Ms. Sawyer spin this? She said, "The alcoholism rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 80 percent." How many viewers saw this total distortion of the truth and believed it?
But then again, it's only about the Indian people of Pine Ridge and who in the hell gives a damn about accuracy or truth. Let's just roll all of these Indians into one ball and call all of them alcoholics.
The problem here is that sensationalism grabs headlines. The assumption is that ABC viewers don't care to hear about the successful programs on the reservation to treat alcoholism. They don't want to hear that there is a full-blown college called the Oglala Lakota College with branches in nearly every community. They don't want to hear that Pine Ridge will soon have its own police academy or that a radio station called KILI is broadcasting news, songs and current happening seven-days a week on the reservation. No, that would detract from their depiction of tragedy.
The residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation are not helpless puppets standing around and waiting for NBC or ABC to come in and pull their bacon from the fire. They are determined, hardworking people looking for a way to cut the ties of colonialism and develop their own economy. Big brother has been wrong so many times that residual damage to the people is pervasive. The Oglala people know there is a problem with alcohol and more than that they know why it exists and what is more they are doing something about it.
When SuAnne Big Crow led the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes to the State A Basketball Championship by sinking the winning shot off of a rebound with only seconds to play, the bus carrying her and the team home from the tournament was met by more than 200 cars and with horns honking and lights flashing, the proud sports fans of the Pine Ridge Reservation guided their beloved team home to the Pine Ridge High School gymnasium to celebrate.
We still need that "Happy Town" for children to go where they can have fun and stay out of trouble and the SuAnne Big Crow Club for Boys and Girls is always there for them. This is a non-profit club that is well worth supporting. I don't do this very often, but in the Christmas spirit, I will give you an address where you can send badly needed donations that will go to a truly good cause. If you want to help hundreds of Indian children instead of just one or two this is a place to start. And by the way, Dianne Sawyer and her ABC crew did not even set foot in the Boys and Girls Club because that would have been showing something good.
Send your donations to: The Visions of SuAnne Big Crow; P.O. Box 5079; Pine Ridge, SD 57770; or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few weeks before she died SuAnne spoke to me and said, "I can take a camera crew to New York City and film all of the worst of that city and then try to pass it off as normal to the rest of the country, but that would be dishonest and when they always report only the bad for Pine Ridge and none of the good, that is also dishonest."
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He can be reached at UnitySoDak1@knology.net)