Modern Genocide: A Brief Look Into Pine Ridge Reservation’s Radioactive Living

The Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation could be facing radiation poisoning from uranium mines in the area

  • Tonia Stands made a Facebook LIVE video where she was running a Geiger counter in her father’s basement in Red Shirt Village

  • Her Geiger counter showed an unsafe amount of radiation in the area

  • In 2007, radiation warning signs were placed in Red Shirt around the Cheyenne River

  • Pine Ridge has a substantially higher rate of cancer, heart disease, and infant mortality rate than the rest of the country

The Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation is best described in three words, “third world country.” Over 95% of people live below the poverty line. The median income per year is $2,600, and the unemployment rate stays between 85% and 95%. It is hard to believe the conditions are so horrendous inside the country that boasts of opportunity for all.

After seeing a series of Facebook posts from Tonia Stands, it appears severe poverty issues are not the only concerns for the reservation. Stands posted a Facebook LIVE video testing her father’s basement with a Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detector Monitor.


Stand’s father’s house is in Red Shirt Village, on the edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation. After running her Geiger counter for ten minutes, it showed a reading of 755µSv.

Because Stand’s Geiger counter was still going, she decided to run another test, this time for one hour. Stand posted a picture of her counter at the one hour mark which showed a reading of 4,093µSv.

While this is alarming, people need to understand what this reading means. The Geiger counter Stand is using appears to be reading in microsievert (µSv). Large nuclear disasters such as Fukushima Daiichi are measured with millisievert (mSv). It takes 1,000µSv to equal 1mSv.

According to a radiation chart released by the Guardian, 2mSv is what we are normally exposed to per year, and 9mSv is the annual exposure for an airline crew flying New York to Tokyo polar route.

Stand’s reading shows that the people of Pine Ridge are possibly being exposed to double the average annual amount on a daily basis. There are medical signs that her readings are correct looking at Pine Ridge Statistics.

Pine Ridge Medical Statistics

Pine Ridge has twice the national average of heart disease and the shortest life expectancy for any community in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. The infant mortality rate is three times higher than the U.S. national average. The area is five times higher than the national average for developing cervical cancer and eight times the national rate for developing diabetes.

While some may try to blame the health issues at Pine Ridge on crippling poverty, uranium is a more likely perpetrator.

Uranium Mines

On July 18, 2007, radiation warning signs were put up around the Cheyenne River in Red Shirt Village due to high levels of nuclear radiation found in the water. A water sample from the Cheyenne River showed levels of alpha radiation above the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level.

The Cheyenne River Basin in South Dakota drains roughly 16,500 square miles within the state. This area includes the Black Hills and Badlands, rangeland, irrigated cropland, and mining areas. After traveling through the western half of the state from southwest to northeast, the Cheyenne River flows into Lake Oahe.

Historical mining records show over 4,000 exploratory uranium mining holes in the southwestern Black Hills that normally go down an average of 600 feet. Runoff from hundreds of abandoned uranium mines in Wyoming run into the Cheyenne River, along with 29 abandoned uranium mines in the Black Hills, all of which are upstream of Red Shirt Village.


Pine Ridge sits just 30 miles away from the nearest Situ Leach (ISL) uranium mine. Canadian-based company Cameco runs what was once known as the Crow Butte Mine. On the Cameco website, the company describes the mine as follows.

Crow Butte celebrated its 25th anniversary of commercial production in 2016. The mine and its employees have established an excellent safety and environmental record. They are protecting the land and water of Nebraska for future generations while producing a product that helps provide clean-air nuclear energy for the nation.

Monitor wells ring the ore zone. In all of its years of operation, Crow Butte has never polluted a neighbor’s well or contaminated waters downstream. Water conservation is important. Virtually all the water the mine uses is continually recycled. The average annual consumption of water is equal to about 225 acres or corn under circle irrigation — about 1-1/2 pivots.

The ore body at Crow Butte is a finite resources and is nearing its end. Annual production will continue to decline until expansion areas are developed. Crow Butte is working to obtain regulatory approvals for three nearby areas, all within several miles of the existing mine. These will be developed as they are approved and as market conditions warrant.

Cameco’s claims are highly disputed by people who live in the area. Crow Butte Resources has admitted to spilling at least 300,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste and only being able to clean up 200,000 gallons. This is the first article of a deeper investigation The Daily Haze is doing on the forgotten people of Pine Ridge Reservation.



About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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