Simon Akam

Photography: Native Americans

In early 2009, funded by a Fulbright travel grant, I set out to discover what the election of the United States' first black president meant for Native Americans - the continent's original minority people.

I travelled to both ends of the Native American socio-economic spectrum: to Foxwoods - the vast casino complex in Connecticut that has brought great wealth to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe - and to Pine Ridge in South Dakota, where the Oglala Sioux still live in conditions of desperate poverty and hardship. I also attended the Native American inaugural ball in Washington the night that Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

My story and photographs ran in the New Statesman in June 2009. The article is available here.

Four children from the Oglala Sioux tribe sit in the cramped four bedroom bungalow that they share with eight other tribe members in Wanblee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Infant mortality on Pine Ridge is twice the national average. (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)
  
Viewed from a suite high in a neighbouring hotel, Foxwoods Casino towers over the woodlands of the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation in Connecticut. Founded in 1986 as a bingo hall, Foxwoods has grown to become the  largest casino in the US, and has brought great wealth to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe. (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)
  
Native American war veterans, dressed in a combination of combat fatigues and traditional ceremonial regalia, wait to parade at the American Indian Inaugural Ball in the Washington DC suburb of Crystal City. (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)
     
  
Marcus D. Levings, aka 'Bald Eagle,' the chairman of the Madan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation, wears his traditional feathered headress at the American Indian Inaugural Ball in the Washington DC suburb of Crystal City. (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)
  
The Prairie Wind Casino on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rurally located far from major population centres, the Oglala Sioux tribe who live on Pine Ridge are unable to profit from gaming in the way that coastal tribes have done. (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)
  
The Prairie Wind Casino, operated by the Oglala Sioux tribe, stands in an isolated location on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Located close to the Nebraska border, Pine Ridge is the poorest Indian reservation in the US, and was the site of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. In winter the area experiences bitterly cold temperatures: 20 Fahrenheit is -7 Celsius.   (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)
     
  
An young Oglala Sioux Indian girl sits on her bunk in the cramped four bedroom bungalow that she shares with 11 other tribe members in Wanblee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. The life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the US. (Simon Akam/The New Statesman)