A Photographic Essay Embracing the Spirit and the Humor of the Oglala Lakota People
Dorothy Sun Bear sits against her singlewide government-issue trailer, shading herself from the sweltering South Dakota sun.  In the middle of our conversation she pauses and looks up at me with that deadly serious grin. “I am proud to be a savage.” she quips.  She hooks me in…and continues. “If ‘savage’ means one who lives on the earth among the waters and the trees, then YES, call me a savage.”  

“Me too, grandma…I’m a savage too!” blurts Dorothy’s 9 year old grandson, Wambli, as he and 2 chickens dash around the corner of the trailer.

Fifteen years ago when I first arrived on Pine Ridge Reservation with my camera it took little time to conclude that, indeed, it was probably one of the saddest places on earth.  Dorothy’s ancestral home looks out over the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre site. And during the 1973 Wounded Knee Uprising Arlet Loud Hawk’s Oglala family home was used to shelter several activists who were running for their lives.  These historical events have not resulted in any improvements in the lives of the Lakota people. Poverty, alcoholism, diabetes and suicide rates continue to be the highest in the United States.

Dorothy and Arlet are two of the many feisty and wise Lakota elders whom I have come to know and love over the years.  Currently, Dorothy is raising her eight grandchildren alone, passing on the Lakota language, fighting against the proliferation of drugs and alcohol on the rez and going to great lengths to actively protest environmental injustices such as the pipeline at Standing Rock.

This collection of 20 Color and B&W photographs depicts, with dignity and humor, the everyday lives of the Oglala Lakota elders and the positive influence these women are having on the younger generation.

Melinda Rose
"Language Lesson"
"Rez Note"
A Photo Essay on the Vanishing Bayou Community of Isle de Jean Charles
Somewhere…down in the forgotten reaches of the Louisiana marshes, a community clings tenaciously to what remains of its homeland. “Isle de Jean Charles,” is a fragile, finger-like Island, attached to the mainland by a narrow 2 mile-long road. A good steady wind could leave you trapped on the Island for days.
Enter the hurricanes...vicious storms with sweet sounding names like Katrina and Rita swallow up this Island again and again, each time ripping up more lives and eroding away more of the Island’s land mass. “Oh we’re use to hurricanes alright,” says Chris Brunet, who is raising his orphaned niece and nephew from a wheel chair. “But since the '50s, our barrier Islands have been eroding away…and now the salt water rushes right in and kills just about everything.”
Chris is one of 40 remaining Islanders, all descendants of the Choctaw- Chitimacha Indian tribes. These Native Americans have inhabited a once-thriving gulf community for more than a Century. The elders share stories of a once-lush prairie land textured with a variety of trees, including fig, pecan and persimmons. Today the horizon is left to tend the hauntingly beautiful remains of mighty oaks and bald cypress, their lonely bleached-out bones rising defiantly out of the soggy marshes.
The people of this battered and broken Island are living on borrowed time. And, as if they haven’t suffered enough, the massive BP oil disaster managed to strip all of the Island’s commercial fishermen of the only livelihood they’ve ever known.
Yet, somehow, these gritty and determined people of Isle de Jean Charles continue to live out their lives. The children frolic and play on the new levee. The men take their boats out on the Gulf. Families of three generations come together on a swelteringly hot Sunday afternoon. And life goes on…for now.
Melinda Rose
"The Last Horse"