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Poverty At The American Indian Reservations (Photos May Not Display)


70% high school drop-out rate at Pine Ridge

80% Unemployed

Lowest Life Expectancy in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti)


On May 7, 2017, I flew from Florida to Connecticut to see one of my favorite bands, The Cult, performing near Yale University. Normally, I would not fly out-of-state to see a concert, but this was not an ordinary situation. I used to be in the music industry; I have been to hundreds of shows and I have more than 1,500 (compact) discs in my music collection. The Cult has always been my one of my favorite bands. When I found out that (for $300) I could get VIP access and meet the lead singer (and guitarist) before the show, I jumped on the opportunity to do so. Luckily, I was one of only a few who paid for VIP access that night. I got to spend 20 minutes with the singer (one-on-one) and cross that ‘thing to do’ off the top of my bucket list. It was quite an experience (as was the show). It was my fifth time seeing them in concert. In our conversation, I asked Ian (Astbury) what causes he supports, and he mentioned the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation even though he (55) lived the first 28 years of his life in Canada and the UK. He moved to the US in ~1990. He has written quite a few songs about American Indians. When I got home, out of curiosity, I did some research on American Indians and got quite aggravated →

As most of you know, in the last few years I have given more than 50 television, newspaper, radio and magazine interviews (usually tied to the stock market). Oftentimes, when given the opportunity, I will express my disgust and frustration with the gap between rich and poor and the low percentage of GDP in this country that is going to charity and philanthropy. Back in 2014, I got very tired of hearing people make excuses for why they don't give money to charity. The main excuse was distrust – although many charities are corrupt, that is merely a horrible excuse not to give. It does not take much time to do research and find organizations that are trustworthy and efficient. What I decided to do was build a website -- on that website I built in 2014, I highlighted 24 charities that I felt were among the finest in the country. I filtered hundreds of names through a screening process. Every one of the 24 charities that passed had a high rating with at least three ratings agencies. When you go to the website -- on the left side of the Home page -- you will see 24 images as you scroll down the page. There is one image for each of the charities that I highlighted on the website. If you click on each of those images, a report will open up (for each of them). Last year, in July 2016, I decided to add another organization to my list and that was -- Then in May (2017), I decided to add the American Indian Reservations to the list of causes that I support and promote. We, as a society, should be ashamed of ourselves to have the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the condition it is in. That we allow something like this to exist in this country is beyond nauseating. Here is a 22-page report that I wrote on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (and poverty on American Indian Reservations). The main reason I wrote this report was so that I could do a presentation at Food for the Poor in the hope that they will allocate some money to Pine Ridge which is the poorest county out of more than 3,000 counties in the United States. Established in 1982, FFTP is a five-star charity headquartered in Coconut Creek, FL.  More than one billion dollars in humanitarian aid distributed in 2015 to 18 countries. Administrative expenses were only 4%. Unemployment is 80%, and 70% are below the poverty line. Approximately 70% of the kids drop out of high school and only one in 100 graduate from college. Yes, the local residents are partly to blame for the situation they find themselves in – many of the wounds are self-inflicted. That being said, they cannot be blamed for the entire situation. It is kind of shocking to me that most people in the United States, who have lived their entire lives here, have no idea what is going on at some of the Indian Reservations in this country and the history there. When you read this report, I think you will agree that, in many regards, the situation at Pine Ridge, home to 28,000 people, is worse than what you would see in many third world countries. I have seen stray animals, homeless people and criminals with better living conditions than those who live at Pine Ridge.

May 7, 2017 / New Haven, Connecticut / Ronnie Moas (center) with lead singer Ian Astbury (left)
and lead guitarist Billy Duffy (right) from The Cult.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was recently highlighted by Kamau (Walter) Bell on his CNN program United Shades of America. It was also highlighted by Diane Sawyer on ABC back in 2011. The photo on the cover of this report is from an album by The Cult from 1991 (Ceremony). It is an excellent album and there is an American Indian boy on the cover.

I will be visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in order to check in person how I (and the charity I work with) can be of assistance. Please read this report and then decide if this is a cause you want to add to those you support. At my website there are reports I wrote on 24 other charities for whoever is looking for new causes to support.

Navajo Nation, which is located at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, is by far the largest Indian Reservation (with a population of more than 150,000). Rounding out the top ten are Osage (Oklahoma), Yakama (Washington), Flathead (Montana), Wind River (Wyoming), Rosebud (South Dakota), Uintah and Oray (Utah), Nez Perce (Idaho), Pine Ridge (South Dakota) and Fort Apache (Arizona). Most of those have populations of 25,000-50,000.

Pine Ridge
is based in South Dakota, and crosses over (by a bit) into Nebraska. Approximately 70% of the ~28,000 people there are living below the poverty line (and half of those people are living in extreme poverty). Three-quarters of the families are impacted by alcohol and/or drug abuse and the unemployment rate is topping 75%. Believe it or not, there are still people living in teepees there -- without electricity and running water. When people are this helpless and hopeless, oftentimes they turn to drugs, alcohol and gangs. All three of these cancers have infected the American Indian communities -- especially the Pine Ridge community. When you look up Pine Ridge on Wikipedia, you will see more than 100 articles referenced in the footnotes section -- much has been written about this place and its long history.

Inside a typical home at Pine Ridge where life expectancy is the second lowest in The Western Hemisphere – only Haiti has a lower rate.





The Oglala Lakota or Oglala Sioux are one of the seven sub-tribes of the Lakota people who, along with the Dakota, make up the Great Sioux Nation. Approximately two-thirds (or 28,000) of the 42,000 Oglala live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the eighth-largest Native American reservation in the United States. The Oglala are a federally recognized tribe whose official title is the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Of note, however, some Oglala reject the term "Sioux" because it was a name given to them by the Chippewa Nation, who were historically enemies of the Lakota. The term means "snake" and, as such, is seen as a slur.


The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, also called Pine Ridge Agency, is an Oglala Lakota Native American reservation located in the US State of South Dakota. Originally included within the territory of the Great Sioux Reservation, Pine Ridge was established in 1889 in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border. Today it consists of 3,468 square miles (8,984 km2) of land area, and is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States -- larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The Pine Ridge Reservation has been designated as one of the poorest areas in the United States. Of the 3,142 counties in the United States, these are among the poorest. Only 84,000 acres (340 km2) of land are suitable for agriculture. The Reservation has few natural resources and no industry. Many residents travel more than 120 miles to Rapid City for seasonal employment. Tribal and federal governments provide the few jobs that are available on the Reservation: only one Oglala in five has a job. Medical care on the Reservation is inadequate, and many tribal members forego medical attention because of the long distance to medical facilities. In addition, housing on the Reservation also does not meet the tribal members’ needs. A severe housing shortage forces hundreds into homelessness while thousands of others live in overcrowded, sub-standard accommodations.

70% of Pine Ridge residents live below the poverty line, and residents must make ends meet on a small fraction of what the average US citizen lives on.

Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe with an estimated population of close to 42,000. Two-thirds live at Pine Ridge. The reservation is large, and its needs are immense, commensurate with grinding poverty. Unemployment is near the shocking 80% level; the weather is extreme, and families struggle with crushing financial, housing, health, educational and social issues. The Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge Reservation face obstacles that do not face most other communities in the United States. The Reservation reports an unemployment rate of more than 80%; high school drop-out rates of nearly 70%, with only one of every 100 children graduating from college. The average life expectancy is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti, with nearly half of the population being under age 18. Many residences do not have toilets or access to running water -- instead, families or clusters of families share outhouses.

It is an old American story -- malign policies hatched in Washington leading to pain and death in Indian country. It was true in the nineteenth century and it remains true today. Congress, heedless of its solemn treaty obligations to Indian tribes, continues to allow across-the-board budget cuts (sequester) to threaten the health, safety and education of Indians across the nation.
The tribe is cutting a program that serves meals to the housebound elderly. Its schools and Head Start program are facing budget cuts. On a reservation with a chronic and worsening shortage of homes, where families double up in flimsy trailers without running water or electricity, a housing-improvement program with a 1,500-family waiting list was shut down. There were recently 100 suicide attempts in a timeframe of less than four months on Pine Ridge, officials there said, but the reservation is losing two mental-health providers because of the sequester.

The flaws in the system are rooted in history

Pine Ridge is the site of several events that marked tragic milestones in the history between the Sioux of the area and the United States government. Stronghold Table -- a mesa in what is today the Oglala-administered portion of Badlands National Park -- was the location of the last of the Ghost Dances. The US authorities' attempt to repress this movement eventually led to the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. The terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 placed the Lakota on one large reservation that stretched across parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, and four other states. After the defeat of the Indian tribes during the Indian Wars of the 1870s, the United States created several smaller reservations. In 1889, the government confiscated 7.7 million acres of the Sioux sacred Black Hills and assigned the Oglala to live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which occupied 2.7 million acres. In 1890, government troops senselessly slaughtered over 300 Reservation residents, most of which were elderly, women and children, near Wounded Knee Creek. In the 20th century, the US Supreme Court ordered the federal government to pay the Sioux tribes millions of dollars in compensation for illegally confiscating the Black Hills. The Oglala remain strong in their desire to have the Black Hills returned to them and refuse to accept settlement money. 





Fort Laramie Treaty, 1868: The Treaty of Fort Laramie, also called the Sioux Treaty of 1868, was an agreement between the United States and the Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brulé bands of Lakota people, Yanktonai Dakota and Arapaho Nation. It was signed on April 29, 1868 at Fort Laramie in the Wyoming Territory, guaranteeing the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, and further land and hunting rights in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The Powder River Country was to be henceforth closed to all whites. The treaty ended Red Cloud's War. The treaty includes an article intended to "ensure the civilization" of the Lakota, financial incentives for them to farm land and become competitive, and stipulations that minors should be provided with an English education at a mission building. To this end, the US government included in the treaty that white teachers, blacksmiths, a farmer, a miller, a carpenter, an engineer and a government agent should take up residence within the reservation.




Discovery of Gold in Black Hills and the invasion: When gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, the Lakota were forced by the US Government to leave their sacred lands and to relocate to the Pine Ridge Reservation and other reservations. In 1874 George Armstrong Custer led the US Army Black Hills Expedition, which set out on July 2 from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, with orders to travel to the previously uncharted Black Hills of South Dakota. Its mission was to look for suitable locations for a fort, find a route to the southwest, and to investigate the potential for gold mining. After his discovery of gold was made public, miners began migrating there illegally although it was reservation land. Prior to the Gold Rush, the Black Hills were used by Native Americans (primarily bands of Sioux but others also ranged through the area). The United States government recognized the Black Hills as belonging to the Sioux by the Treaty of Laramie in 1868. Despite being within Indian Territory, and therefore off-limits, white Americans were increasingly interested in the gold-mining possibilities of the Black Hills. Prospectors found gold in 1874 near present-day Custer, South Dakota, but the deposit turned out to be small. The large placer gold deposits of Deadwood Gulch were discovered in November 1875, and in 1876, thousands of gold-seekers flocked to the new town of Deadwood, although it was still within Indian land. The tale of first gold discovery in the Black Hills was thrown into question in 1887 by the discovery of what has become known as the Thoen Stone. Discovered by Louis Thoen on the slopes of Lookout Mountain, the stone purports to be the last testament of Ezra Kind who, along with six others, entered the Black Hills in 1833 (at a time when whites were forbidden by law and treaty from entering the area), "got all the gold we could carry" in June 1834, and were subsequently killed by Indians beyond the high hill. While it may seem unlikely that someone who has "lost my gun with nothing to eat and Indians hunting me" would take the time to carve his story in sandstone, there is corroborating historical evidence for the Ezra Kind party.

As more settlers and gold miners invaded the Black Hills, the Government determined it had to acquire the land from the Sioux, and appointed a commission to negotiate the purchase. The negotiations failed, as the Sioux resisted giving up what they considered sacred land. The US resorted to military force. They declared the Sioux Indians "hostile" for failing to obey an order to return from an off-reservation hunting expedition by a specific date.

In the dead of winter, the Sioux found that overland travel was impossible. The consequent military expedition to remove the Sioux from the Black Hills included an attack on a major encampment of several bands on the Little Bighorn River. Led by General Custer, the attack ended in his defeat; it was an overwhelming victory of chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse over the 7th Cavalry Regiment, a conflict often called Custer's Last Stand. US forces were vastly outnumbered. In 1876 the US Congress decided to open up the Black Hills to development and break up the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1877, it passed an act to make 7.7 million acres (31,000 km2) of the Black Hills available for sale to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 Congress divided the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation into five separate reservations, defining the boundaries of each in its Act of March 2, 1889. Pine Ridge was established at that time.

This forced relocation was in breach of treaties between the Lakota Nations and the United States government.  In November of 1890, the United States government banned the Lakota practice of the Ghost Dance on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota.

The Dawes Act of 1887: Adopted by Congress in 1887, it authorized the President of the United States to survey American Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Indians. Those who accepted allotments and lived separately from the tribe would be granted United States citizenship. The Dawes Act was amended in 1891; amended again in 1898 by the Curtis Act; and again in 1906 by the Burke Act. During the ensuing decades, the Five Civilized Tribes lost 90 million acres of former communal lands, which were sold to non-Natives.

In addition, many individuals, unfamiliar with land ownership, became the target of speculators and criminals, were stuck with allotments that were too small for profitable farming, and lost their household lands. Tribe members also suffered from the breakdown of the social structure of the tribes. The Dawes Act had a negative effect on American Indians, as it ended their communal holding of property (with crop land often being privately owned by families or clans), by which they had ensured that everyone had a home and a place in the tribe. The act was the culmination of American attempts to destroy tribes and their governments and to open Indian lands to settlement by non-Indians and to development by railroads. Land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres (560,000 km2) in 1887 to 48 million acres (190,000 km2) in 1934. By dividing reservation lands into privately owned parcels, legislators hoped to complete the assimilation process by forcing Indians to adopt individual households, and strengthen the nuclear family and values of economic dependency strictly within this small household unit. For nearly one hundred years, the consequences of federal Indian allotments have developed into the problem of fractionation. As original allottees die, their heirs receive equal, undivided interests in the allottees' lands. In successive generations, smaller undivided interests descend to the next generation. Fractionated interests in individual Indian allotted land continue to expand exponentially with each new generation.

Wounded Knee Massacre: In December, 1890, at Wounded Knee (located on the Pine Ridge Reservation), over one hundred unarmed Lakota men, women, and children were killed by the United States Military’s 7th Cavalry. On the morning of December 29, 1890, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, saying he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over Black Coyote's rifle escalated and a shot was fired, which resulted in the 7th Cavalry opening firing indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their fellow troopers. Those few Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the troopers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but US cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

In the end, US forces killed at least 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux and wounded 51 (four men, and 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300.

The Wounded Knee Massacre resulted in the issuance of more than twenty Congressional Medals of Honor to the 7th Cavalry members who killed the unarmed Lakota people, and was taught as a “battle” in many schools until very recently. Repeated requests for the revocation of those Medals – an action seen by many as an essential symbolic step towards reconciliation -- have been denied. In 1990, the United States Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution acknowledging that the incident at Wounded Knee was a massacre rather than a battle, expressing its “deep regret” but not formally apologizing. The Snyder Act of 1921 assigned the US Department of the Interior with the responsibility to provide education, medical and social services to many Native nations and tribes (including the Oglala Lakota). The very limited and inadequate access to these basic amenities on Pine Ridge Reservation is ample indication of how these obligations have not been fulfilled.


Indian Reorganization Act: During the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration made changes in federal policy to improve conditions for American Indians. In response to complaints about corruption and injustices in the BIA management of reservations, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, permitting tribal nations to reorganize with self-government. It encouraged them to adopt a model of elected representative governments and elected tribal chairmen or presidents, with written constitutions. While tribes welcomed taking back more control of their government, this change eroded the power and structure of the traditional hereditary leaders of the clan system. The people continued to be under assimilation pressure: through the early part of the century, many children were sent away to Indian boarding schools where they were usually required to speak English and were prohibited from speaking Lakota; they were usually expected to practice Christianity rather than native religions. In the late 20th century, many of these institutions were found to have had staff who abused the children in their care.

Myth of Prosperity -- This is not how most Americans see the reservations. The Great Sioux Nation and the region it once ranged across are fixed in the popular imagination by the legends of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, of Custer's last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and Wounded Knee. It's a history the Oglala Sioux constantly assert to remind themselves of past greatness and what they believe they are owed. But the modern perception among many Americans is also of tribes growing rich on casinos and Native Americans living well from treaties that require the US government to provide subsidized housing, free healthcare and regular welfare payments/checks. Close to a million people live on 310 (US) Native American reservations. Exact figures are hard to pin down because the census is considered widely inaccurate on many of them. Some tribes have done well from casinos on reservations, such as the Seminoles in Florida who made enough money from high-stakes bingo to pay close to one billion dollars to buy the Hard Rock Cafe and hotel empire. Other tribes have made a more modest but comfortable income from gambling. The key for almost all of them was to be close enough to major cities to keep the slot machines busy and the card tables full. Others pull in an income from tourism and minerals. Affirmative action programs have opened university doors and jobs in the cities to the Navajo, Cherokee and other tribes. 

The Sioux's treaties with the US government in the second half of the 19th century were similar to those of other tribes in that they were frequently broken as an expanding America sought more land for railways, mining and farming, and battered Native Americans into ceding more territory in return for promises of financial support. Defeated and dispossessed, the Sioux signed treaties that committed Washington to providing housing, education and health care. The tribe's leaders today view the treaties as a trap -- promising much, but providing just enough to create a culture of dependency and despair.

The government wanted us to feel defeated and we played right in to their hands, says Two Bulls. We were taught to feel defeated. Look how they brought welfare. Our people lived on welfare and some of our people don't even know how to work. They are used to just staying at home all day, watching television, drinking and taking drugs. That is the state the government wanted us to be in and we are in that state.


Economic Situation

As of 2011, the reservation has little economic development or industry. No banks or discount stores are located on the reservation. Its people receive $80 million annually in federal monies, such as Social Security and veteran’s benefits. They spend most of this money largely in stores located off the reservation in Nebraska border towns, creating no benefit for the tribe. As the journalist Stephanie Woodward noted, little money changes hands within the reservation. The tribe has prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol on the reservation, but Pine Ridge residents support four liquor stores at Whiteclay, which in 2010 paid federal and state excise taxes (included in the liquor sales price) of more than $400,000 (according to the state liquor commission). Despite the lack of formal employment opportunities on Pine Ridge, considerable agricultural production is taking place on the reservation. Only a small percentage of the tribe directly benefits from this, as land is leased to agricultural producers. Most employment on the reservation is provided by community institutions, such as the tribal Oglala Lakota College, and other schools; the BIA; and the US HIS. In October 2016, the tribe opened an 80-bed nursing home -- at full operation it will employ a staff of 100. The tribe is working on a justice center and has advertised an art competition for works for its spaces, to include the tribal courts and a restorative justice courtroom.


Some bullet points … and each one of them is indeed like a bullet

·         Pine Ridge Reservation is the poorest county in the United States.

·         Rapid City, South Dakota, is the nearest town of size (population approximately 57,700) for those who can travel to find work. It is located 120 miles from the Reservation. The nearest large city to Pine Ridge is Denver, Colorado, located some 350 miles away.

·         There is no industry, technology or commercial infrastructure to provide employment for its residents, contributing to its 80% unemployment rate.

·         There is no public transportation available on the Reservation.

·         There are no banks, motels, discount stores, or movie theaters, and the one grocery store of moderate size is tasked with providing for the entire community.

·         There is a 70% high school dropout rate.

·         The average life expectancy on the Reservation is 47 years for men and 52 years for women.

·         Teenage suicide rate is 150% higher than the US national average.

·         Infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent, and about 300% higher than the US national average.

·         There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home, a home that may only have two to three rooms. Some Reservation families are forced to sleep on dirt floors.

·         More than 30% of homes have no electricity or basic water and sewage systems, forcing many to carry (often contaminated) water from local rivers daily for their personal needs.

·         At least 60% of homes on the Reservation need to be demolished and replaced due to infestation of potentially fatal black mold. However, there are no insurance or government programs to assist families in replacing their homes.

·         Weather is extreme on the Reservation. Severe winds are always a factor. Summer temperatures oftentimes will top 100 degrees and winters bring bitter cold and can go well below zero.

Children are the most Vulnerable

The children are the most vulnerable victims of the historic inequalities and disadvantage: the youth attempted suicide rate is estimated at 7-10 times the national average. In 2009 and 2015, the Oglala Lakota declared a Suicide State of Emergency on the Reservation, particularly among the youth. Few communities in America are as eager for a silver lining as the Lakota of the Pine Ridge reservation, situated on more than two million rambling acres, nudged up against the Black Hills and Badlands National Park. Nowhere is it more palpable than in the reservation’s schools, a jumble of public, private and federal systems that often overlap but rarely boost the academic prospects of the most forgotten children in America.

The BIE blames its failures on an inconsistent commitment from political leadership; institutional, budgetary and legal barriers; as well as bureaucratic red tape among federal agencies. Those systemic issues have produced a disjointed system that has clogged up the delivery of required materials, including textbooks. The BIE has had 33 leaders in 35 years, making a chaotic system that has not operated efficiently for decades even worse. Some challenges are obvious.

How do you get a quality teaching staff at a very remote part of the country where you don’t have a city to support; you don’t have the infrastructure; and the salaries are lower? The greatest impact in a classroom is the teacher and we need to improve the quality of that instruction. We have to do it with our hands tied behind our back and our feet tied together as well – Roesell

Poor academic performance plagues American Indian students both on and off federal lands. Even as other historically oppressed minority groups like African Americans and Hispanics have made steady academic progress over the last decade, achievement among American Indian youth has stalled. Significant spikes in Black and Hispanic high school graduation rates have pushed the country’s overall graduation rate to an all-time high, while the rate for Native American students is trending in the opposite direction. Compounding the poor academic outcomes is what advocates in Indian country describe as a history of broken treatises, lingering racism and chicanery. While tribes operate some of the BIE schools, the funding comes with various restrictions and benchmarks. In the case of traditional public schools that operate near reservations and have a large number Indian students, funding goes directly to states and does not provide culturally relevant Indian education.

The abysmal state of education on the Pine Ridge reservation has sparked a renewed interest in wresting back control of educating its youth. Language immersion programs have been launched. An all-girls school is being planned. Some groups are pushing for state charter school legislation to allow for largely autonomous start-up schools. Additionally, there has been new momentum around crafting more culturally relevant curriculum for young Indians who have largely lost their spiritual and historic connections to the rich history of the Lakota -- members of one of the seven subtribes that make up the Great Sioux Nation.

Tribal Government

The reservation is governed by the eighteen-member Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, who are elected officials rather than traditional clan life leaders, in accordance with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Executive Officers of the Council are the President (also called Chairman), Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Primary elections are held in October and the General election is held in November. The President and Vice-President are elected at large by voters to a term of office of two years. The Secretary and Treasurer are appointed by the Tribal Council. Council members serve a term of two years. There are nine election districts on the reservation. One representative is elected for each 1,000 tribe members. The Constitution was approved on January 15, 1936 with amendments approved on December 24, 1969; December 3, 1985; and July 11, 1997. While many residents have continued to struggle with the tribal government, BIA and other federal representatives, some have become more politically active in other ways. In 2002, the Pine Ridge Reservation was part of a statewide voter registration campaign organized by the Democratic Party.


Some figures state that the life expectancy on the Reservation is 48 years old for men and 52 for women. Other reports state that the average life expectancy on the Reservation is a bit lower. With either set of figures, that is the shortest life expectancy for a community anywhere in the Western Hemisphere outside Haiti, according to The Wall Street Journal.

·         The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 300% higher than the US national average.

·         More than half the Reservation's adults battle addiction and disease. Alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and malnutrition are rampant.

·         The rate of diabetes on the Reservation is reported to be 800% higher than the US national average.

·         Recent reports indicate that almost 50% of the adults on the Reservation over the age of 40 have diabetes. Over 37% of population is diabetic.

·         As a result of the high rate of diabetes on the Reservation, diabetic-related blindness, amputations, and kidney failure are common.

·         The tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately 800% higher than the US national average.

·         Cervical cancer is 500% higher than the US national average.

·         It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on Pine Ridge Reservation are infested with Black Mold (Stachybotrys). This infestation causes an often-fatal condition with infants, children, elderly, those with damaged immune systems, and those with lung and pulmonary conditions at the highest risk. Exposure to this mold can cause hemorrhaging of the lungs and brain as well as cancer.

There is only one hospital on the Pine Ridge Reservation -- it is under-funded and mental health professionals are not readily available to most children. The damage is being done to agencies and programs whose budgets rely nearly entirely on federal sources, now being slashed. In signing treaties with Indian nations in return for land, the federal government promised a wide array of life-sustaining services. One of the most important is the Indian Health Service (IHS), which serves about two million people on reservations and is grossly under-financed (even in good times). It routinely runs out of money halfway through the year. Though Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ health were exempted from sequestration cuts, the Indian Health Service was not. IHS, housed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged with providing medical and environmental health services to approximately two million Native Americans. Healthcare is delivered through programs and facilities operated by IHS, as well as by tribes and tribal organizations through contracts and agreements with the federal government. IHS estimates annual Congressional appropriations have only met approximately half of the actual needs (of Native American health care recipients).

The chronically underfunded IHS offers care through a network of hospitals, clinics and health stations managed by IHS, tribes or tribal organizations, and urban Indian health programs. If the proposed budget passes, Medicaid, the national and state program that covers low-income individuals, could see its budget cut by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years.


Testing times under the new regime
-- US Native Americans are expressing alarm over President Donald Trump's proposed 2018 federal budget, which calls for across-the-board spending cuts to agencies and programs that provide critical services. While the budget does not get into specifics relating to Indian Affairs or (the) Indian Health Service, the assumed across the board cuts at both departments will reduce services to Indian Country, which are already underfunded.

The Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs is proposed to receive a 12% cut. BIA funding is chronically under-funded at about 40%. Further cuts threaten to erode the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibility. It is unclear, what the Trump Administration’s understanding and position is regarding maintaining at least a minimum fidelity to settled law and policy regarding the federal government’s obligations --
Aaron Payment, tribal chairperson of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians,
and secretary of the National Congress of the American Indians.


Proposed Cuts

Department of the Interior (Houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs)

Faces a nearly 11% budget reduction

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Cuts of more than $300 million

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Spending trimmed by 13.2%

Environmental Protection Agency

Budget would decrease by 31.4%

Department of Health and Human Services,
which houses the Indian Health Service

Budget to be trimmed by 16.2%

Department of Education

Would lose by 13.5% in funding

An estimated 2.2 million people in Native American and Alaska Native communities, would be impacted by proposed cuts in health care spending. Compared to the overall population, they face chronic disparities in health and health care, suffering high rates of diabetes, heart disease, depression and alcoholism. The budget would eliminate programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households pay to heat or cool their homes. In 2016, 150 tribal groups and more than 43,000 Native households received LIHEAP funds. The budget would eliminate several independent agencies that serve Indian Country, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Denali Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. 

They don’t control crime in this part of the world

The Oglala Sioux Tribe maintains legal jurisdiction over all crimes committed on the reservation by tribal members, non-reservation Indians, and those willing to relinquish authority to the tribal courts. Felony crimes and others which have been specifically assumed by the federal government, as defined by various acts of the US Congress, are outside their jurisdiction and are prosecuted by the BIA and FBI. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the tribal police force, facing cumulative budget cuts of 14%, or more than $1 million, has recently let 14 officers go. Its nine patrol cars are already pitifully inadequate for policing a 2.8-million-acre reservation plagued by poverty, joblessness, youth gangs, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction. The ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Ex parte Crow Dog (1883) marked the high point of Indian sovereignty in law enforcement on reservations. Since then federal legislation and subsequent Supreme Court decisions have reduced Native American sovereignty in this area. Because of historic problems with alcohol use by its members, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation since 1832. The exception was a brief period in the 1970s when on-reservation sales were tried.

The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska -- just over the South Dakota-Nebraska border -- has approximately 12 residents and four liquor stores, which sold ~ 5,000,0000 (12-ounce) cans of beer in 2010 almost exclusively to Oglala Lakota. That comes to more than 150 cans per person.

This contributes to widespread alcoholism on the reservation, which is estimated to affect 85% of the families. Tribal police estimate that 90% of the crimes are alcohol-related.

There is no rhythm to crime here. All hell could be breaking loose before Noon and things could be stock-still after Midnight. The young toughs are often on horseback and they prefer baseball bats and knives to pistols. Drugs including weed, meth and cocaine – are everywhere. At Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, it is almost exclusively alcohol that gives law enforcement fits.

·         The small Tribal Housing Authority homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation are so over-crowded and scarce that many homeless families often use tents or cars for shelter. Many families live in shacks, old trailers, or dilapidated mobile homes.

·         There is a large homeless population on the Reservation, but most families never turn away a relative no matter how distant the blood relation. Consequently, many homes have large numbers of people living in them.
There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home -- a home which may only have two to three rooms. Some homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.

·         60% of Reservation families have no telephone.

·         Over 33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems as well as electricity.

·         Many residents must carry (often contaminated) water from the local rivers daily for their personal needs and 39% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.

·         59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.

·         It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation need to be burned to the ground and replaced with new housing due to infestation of the potentially-fatal Black Mold (Stachybotrys). There is no insurance or government program to assist families in replacing their homes.

·         Many of the wells and much of the water and land on the Reservation is contaminated with pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and commercial and governmental mining operations outside the Reservation. A further source of contamination is buried ordnance and hazardous materials from closed US military bombing ranges on the Reservation.





Native Americans have always had a higher suicide rate than non-natives in the US, and the rate is rising, especially on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota people. In 2015 alone more than 100 Pine Ridge youths between the ages of 9 and 24 attempted suicide. The teenage suicide rate at Pine Ridge is 150% higher than the US national average for this age group.

Some people say it is like a third world country, said Janis. I actually think the more correct term would be fourth world, because the third world nations have other governments and other non-governmental organizations really reaching out to uplift those countries and promote development.


The only suicide prevention outreach program on the South Dakota Indian reservation where at least 20 people killed themselves in 2015 was supposed to end in December, 2015, due to lack of funding. The move comes after a federal agency denied the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s application for a grant that would have paid for the program on the Pine Ridge reservation for five more years. A copy of the application obtained by The Associated Press shows the tribe was seeking more than $3.6 million for a revamped program. However, federal officials rated the application poorly.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration gave the reservation the opportunity to make changes, but tribal officials didn’t read the rejection letter until weeks after receiving it, when it was too late, Kevin Steele, spokesman for the Oglala Sioux Tribe said. The Sweetgrass Program has cost about $480,000 per year for three years. Yvonne DeCory, a suicide-prevention outreach worker, said the tribe is now asking the federal agency to approve an extension that would allow the tribe to spend close to $200,000 of unused funds from its current grant. Under the program, outreach workers operate a hotline, respond to emergency suicide calls around the clock and provide suicide prevention training at schools. The outreach workers also help people who have attempted suicide navigate the behavioral health system: They take them to the emergency room, visit them at the hospital’s mental health unit, make sure prescriptions get filled, and sometimes, even drive family members to visit a relative who is under supervision. The program also helps families whose relatives have killed themselves.

This is very frustrating because we are in a state of emergency, DeCory said.
We are # 1 in suicides in Indian Country.


Among the weaknesses that the federal agency found with the application was that it did not describe its plan for maintaining and/or improving the provision of high quality services that are cost effective throughout the life of the grant. The most serious criticism was regarding performance measurement, with the agency saying the application did not describe how achievement of the goals will produce meaningful results for the community. Suicide has been a persistent problem on the reservation for years, but a string of recent deaths among adolescents has shaken the impoverished community. The youngest to die by suicide since December was 12 years of age.

Tribal leaders, school officials, students and parents point to a host of problems, including bullying on social media and at school; troubled family lives; and a sense of hopelessness due to lack of economic opportunities and high unemployment rates. Approximately 28,000 members of the (42,000-member) Oglala Sioux Tribe live on the reservation, which was the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, in which the 7th Cavalry slaughtered about 300 tribe members in 1890. At over 2 million acres, the reservation is among the largest in the US. It includes the county with the highest poverty rate in the US, and some of the worst rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, violence and unemployment.

Navajo Nation, which is located at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, is by far the largest Indian Reservation (with a population of more than 150,000). Rounding out the top ten are Osage (Oklahoma), Yakama (Washington), Flathead (Montana), Wind River (Wyoming), Rosebud (South Dakota), Uintah and Oray (Utah), Nez Perce (Idaho), Pine Ridge (South Dakota) and Fort Apache (Arizona). Most of those have populations of 25,000-50,000.

Education challenges

At Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where a well-documented plague of poverty and violence has festered since the Oglala Sioux were forced onto the reservation more than a century ago – there is virtually no infrastructure, few jobs and no major economic engines. Families are destabilized by substance abuse and need. Children often go hungry and adults die young. These realities wash onto the schoolyards there with little runoff or relief, trapping generations of young people in hopelessness and despair. Few communities in America are as eager for a silver lining as the Lakota of the Pine Ridge reservation, situated on more than 2 million rambling acres, nudged up against the Black Hills and Badlands National Park. Nowhere is it more palpable than in the reservation’s schools, a jumble of public, private and federal systems that often overlap but rarely boost the academic prospects of the most forgotten children in America.

·         High School drop-out rate is more than 70%.

·         According to a Bureau of Indian Affairs report, the Pine Ridge Reservation schools are in the bottom 10% of school funding by the US Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

·         Teacher turnover is 8X the US national average

While the 565 Native American tribes recognized by the US government enjoy sovereign status as separate nations, nearly all Indian education funding is tied up with federal strings. Unlike most public schools that rely largely on local tax money, there are virtually no private land owners on the reservations, so there are no taxpayers to tax. The government often pays as much as 60% of a reservation school’s budget compared to just 10% of the budget of a typical public school. When recent federal sequestration cuts kicked in, Indian country was hit first. The government is starting to own up to its failures. In a startling new draft report released in April by the Federal Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states, the agency draws attention to its own inability to deliver a quality education to Native students. BIE-funded schools are chronically failing and are one of the lowest-performing sets of schools in the country -- according to the report.

American Indian students in tribal communities face challenges that are more serious than their peers in urban low-income communities. Many BIE schools are, for instance, located in some of the poorest regions of the country. According to the US Census, four of the nation’s five poorest counties overlap at least partly with American Indian reservations. These communities experience a high rate of unemployment and a higher concentration of residents who are 18 or younger. For example, the Pine Ridge community experiences an 80% unemployment rate and the per-capita income is a small fraction of what the average American lives on.   

The executive director of the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium -- a group representing tribal schools on Pine Ridge and other South Dakota reservations -- described the schools’ challenge --

We have a lot of young people on the reservation and not nearly enough jobs.
That presents challenges to us as educators when we are trying to convince our young people to stay in school,
to do well in school, to graduate, to go on to college.”

This chronic high unemployment among American Indian adults tends to contribute to substance abuse, domestic violence, and a low level of social capital in tribal communities. Geographic isolation also contributes to the lack of economic opportunity on many American Indian reservations. Many reservations are located at great distances from cities and do not benefit from the private investment and market-based resources that other communities may receive. The remote location of many BIE-funded schools makes it difficult to recruit effective teachers and leaders. Although the Internet is readily accessible to communities in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing nations, it is not readily accessible to many families on Pine Ridge -- they simply cannot afford high internet service charges. Mail is not delivered to residences and some have to travel 50 miles or more to the nearest Post Office to receive medications and other communications. There is only one supermarket on the Reservation and the small community stores scattered across the reservation do not offer healthy food options.

Extreme weather doesn’t help either

For the Lakota American Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota winters are an annual time of danger and desperation. Temperatures there drop to well below zero. Homes on the reservation are often sub-standard, without central heat or proper electricity. Local activist Bamm Brewer says, so many people here have wood stoves because it is the cheapest way to heat your home. Heating is not the only issue families struggle with on Pine Ridge. Officials with One Spirit say 90% of Lakota residents live below the federal poverty level and can't afford healthy food. Health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and malnutrition pose a significant threat.



New emerging problems

Chairman David Archambault II invited Grand Chief Edward John in his official capacity as a UN Expert Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to visit the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on October 28, 2016 to observe the critical and worsening human rights crisis situation taking place in their traditional Treaty lands. This worsening situation results from the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is intended to transport 570,000 barrels of oil per day adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The oil pipeline is also proposed to cross the Missouri River / Lake Oahe, which is the Tribe’s primary source of water, without the consent of (or consultation with) the Tribe. This construction is a $3.8-billion-dollar project being carried out by Energy Transfer Partners/Dakota Access LLC, with the support and permission of the US Army Corps of Engineers -- an agency of the United States government.

This is a complex situation involving and highlighting State, Federal and Tribal jurisdictional issues. There is a need for immediate, direct, active and meaningful Nation-to-Nation dialogue with the United States Federal Government including the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Justice, the US State Department and other relevant US agencies and the Tribal Government of the Standing Rock Sioux and other impacted Tribes, based on US human and Treaty rights obligations. Despite the US Treaty and Trust responsibilities and their direct involvement through the Army Corps of Engineers, the active presence of the US Federal government on site to resolve the crisis and uphold the rights of the Tribe is notably absent. In addition, the ongoing unresolved territorial and Treaty rights issues and the lack of adherence by the pipeline company (Dakota Access and its Texas-based parent company Energy Transfer Partners) to the Federal Government’s calls (in September and October 2016) for a voluntary work halt are exacerbating the crisis and contributing to the growing tensions and frustrations in and around the Oceti Sakowin and other camps.

There is extreme and grinding poverty on some of America’s Indian reservations, many of which resemble small third-world countries in the middle of the wealthiest nation on earth. The two million Natives in the US have the highest rate of poverty of any racial group -- almost twice the national average. This deprivation seems to contribute not only to higher rates of crime but also to higher rates of suicide, alcoholism, gang membership, and sexual abuse. As of 2011, the suicide rate for Native American men aged 15 to 34 was significantly higher than for the general population. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Natives aged 10 to 34. Alcohol-use disorders are more likely among American Indian youths than among any other ethnic group. Involvement in gang activity is more prevalent among Native Americans than it is among Latinos and African Americans. Native American women report being raped 2X-3X as often as the national average. The rate of child abuse among Native Americans is twice as high as the national average. Each of these problems is worse among the Half of Natives who live on reservations.

Navajo Nation, which is located at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, is by far the largest Indian Reservation (with a population of more than 150,000). Rounding out the top ten are Osage (Oklahoma), Yakama (Washington), Flathead (Montana), Wind River (Wyoming), Rosebud (South Dakota), Uintah and Oray (Utah), Nez Perce (Idaho), Pine Ridge (South Dakota) and Fort Apache (Arizona). Most of those have populations of 25,000-50,000.

Please keep these Native American Reservations in mind when you are deciding which causes to support.

We should not judge a country based on how many millionaires and billionaires it has – a country should be judged by how many are below the poverty line.

We have people in this country who spend millions of dollars on their own comfort for things they don’t need, while others, many of whom are children, live in squalor. It is indefensible and inexcusable behavior.

Squalor -- a state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect.

dirt, filth, grubbiness, grime, muck, foulness, vileness, poverty, wretchedness, meanness, seediness, shabbiness, sordidness, sleaziness, neglect, decay, dilapidation

We have enough in this world to satisfy everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi




1.       South Dakota: Pine Ridge Reservation - American Indian Relief Council is now Northern Plains Reservation Aid


3.       America's native prisoners of war - Aaron Huey


5.       Pine Ridge Reservation

6.       Opinion | Abandoned in Indian Country

7.       Trump Budget Calls For Cuts to Native American Health Care, Housing

8.       Trump Budget Brings Harsh Cuts to Indian Country

9.       Trump 2018 Budget Would Cut Needed Services to Indian Country

10.    American Indians struggle to survive winter

11.    Gone Girl

12.    Reservation loses funding for suicide prevention program

13.    Pine Ridge Suicide Prevention Project Gets One Year Extension


15.    Obama's Indian problem

16.    In the shadow of Wounded Knee: Inside the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota

17.    Why We Look Again: Aaron Huey at Pine Ridge

18.    Pine Ridge Suicide Prevention Project Gets One Year Extension

19.    Resources and Programs | Suicide Prevention Resource Center

20.    Suicide on the Great Sioux Nation

21.    Battling Youth Suicide on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

22.    Law and disorder on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

23.    Pine Ridge: A broken system failing America's most forgotten children

24.    Pine Ridge Statistics

25.    Why Are Indian Reservations So Poor? A Look At The Bottom 1%

26.    Locked In

27.    Human Rights Observer Report on Mission to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

28.    Here's One Way to Help Native Americans: Property Rights

29.    FFF: American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month: November 2015

30.    UNO will show documentary on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation alcoholism

31.    The Indian reservation where 1 in 4 children are deformed by alcohol

32.    We're All Living on a Rez: My Week on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation






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3,000,000 children under age five starve to death worldwide every year



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