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The Skin of the Apple

By Jennifer H. Arlen

Chief Frank Fools Crow and his wife Katy live in an aging one-room house on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in western South Dakota Although conditions have improved on Pine Ridge since the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising, many of the problems which led to the takeover still persist More than 60 percent of the reservation Sioux are unemployed. The Fools Crows, like most families, do not have running water or central heating, though they are among the minority who have electricity.

One of the Fools Crows granddaughters. Vine Mae, chose to move away from the rural areas to a federally-constructed cluster housing project in the reservation town of Kyle, where she lives in a three-bedroom house with three children, two sisters, and her sisters' three children. Unlike her grandparents. Vine Mae has central heating, running water, and a telephone. But she is unemployed, and away from the rural areas where people fill time chopping wood, hauling water and preparing for winter. Her only pastime is drinking.

"When I first started, I was just drinking on weekends." Vine Mae says. "Then I started drinking every day. It got so I wouldn't want to go out-side because I was hung over, but I'd have to get off reservation to the bars. I don't know how my kids survived." Though she has given up habitual drinking since, she still describes herself--and all but one of her friends--as alcoholic.

Although Vine Mae chose to remain on the reservation despite the dearth of jobs, many of Fools Crow's other granddaughters leave every fall in search of employment in off-reservation cities Barbara Rock. Fools Crow's 29-year-old grand daughter, has chosen this option, she lives and works off-reservation most of the year, as she has since she ran away from a reservation-based Catholic boarding school at 14. Most summers, though, when the one-room log cabin behind her grandparents' house is habitable, she returns, as do many of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren living off-reservation, to see her sisters and help the old couple run things.

During the summer, Barbara lives off her savings and the welfare checks she receives from the federal government. In the fall, when the weather turns cold and her savings are depleted, she returns to her job in an electronics factory in North Carolina. Like many off-reservation Sioux, though, she says she feels caught between the Sioux and the off-reservation white culture, wanting neither to sever her ties with the reservation nor to return to the reservation and live permanently on welfare.

"Some people call me a red apple--you know, red on the outside but white inside--because I live off reservation," Barbara says. "But I can't live here in the winter; it gets too cold."

"Besides," she adds, "I make more money working a week in North Carolina than I get per month from welfare. I just can't stay here, where there aren't any jobs."

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