Native Sun News: Poorest county is on South Dakota reservation
The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA — Ziebach County in Northwestern South Dakota has the distinction of being the poorest county in the nation according to the latest Census Bureau Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE).

Ironically Ziebach County, alphabetically, is listed last in U.S. counties. Ziebach was also listed as poorest in the 2007 SAIPE report.

In 2009, Ziebach County slipped to a new low with 62 percent of its 2,552 residents living below the poverty level. The rate of children younger than 18 in the county was even higher, 76.7 percent.

Almost the entire county lies within the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. The balance of the county, along its extreme northern county line lies within the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. It is one of five South Dakota counties that lie entirely on Indian reservations.

The southern part of Eagle Butte which is the headquarters for the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation is within the boundaries of Ziebach County. Other communities that are in Ziebach County are Cherry Creek, Takini, Bridger, Dupree, Isabel. Thunder Butte, Iron Lightning, Red Scaffold, Bear Creek and Red Elm.

Historically this is the home of Si Tanka (Big Foot) and his Minnecojou Band of Lakota who were slaughtered at Wounded Knee on December 28, 1890. Many of the survivors of Wounded Knee returned to the area near Takini, Cherry Creek and Bridger, where many of his descendents still live today.

Other South Dakota counties listed as having the highest poverty are Shannon County with 51.6 percent of 13, 727 residents living below the poverty level, Todd County with 45.3 of I’s 10,095 residents living below the poverty level, Buffalo County with 43.6 percent of its 2,067 residents living below the poverty level, Corson County with 39 percent of its 4,093 residents living below the poverty level. Also listed were Mellette and Bennett Counties.

The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates are available. The nation’s official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008 — the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004. There were 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase.

Based on all age poverty, 453 counties or 14.4 percent of all counties had a statistically significant increase in poverty between 2007 and 2009. Thirty-eight counties had a decrease in poverty between the two years. In 2009, there were 52.3 million school-age children in 13,619 school districts. Thirty-nine percent of all school-age children resided in districts whose total poverty rates were greater than 20 percent.

According to the Census Bureau “the main objective of the SAIPE program is to provide timely, reliable estimates of income and poverty statistics for the administration of federal programs and the allocation of federal funds to local jurisdictions. Some state and local programs also use SAIPE income and poverty estimates to distribute funds and manage program.”

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at: