feature: Spirit Lake // Rena Effendi
Located in an isolated and economically languishing area of North Dakota, Spirit Lake is a Sioux Indian reservation home to some 6,200 inhabitants. Tribe members struggle with crippling social problems, among which are poverty and high unemployment rate, staggering at 39%, endemic alcoholism and poor nutrition. Medical conditions such as cirrhosis and diabetes are very common on Spirit Lake and mental health has deteriorated. Inordinate alcohol consumption, depression and neglect lead to abuse, death from overdose or accidents, and finally suicide with rates among the highest in America. But the most chilling statistic on Spirit Lake is this: for every 163 residents on the reservation, there is at least one registered sex offender and native children account for 30% of all child abuse cases in North Dakota. According to the tribe members, a vast majority of the child abuse crimes on the reservation, to this day, continue to be neglected by the law enforcement and remain unpunished. These facts are gruesome in Spirit Lake and while people struggle to protect their children from the horrors of abuse, the family union is strong. People persevere and even as they barely make their ends meet, they take care of their own children and those of their relatives. While in Spirit Lake I met Jada Longie, a 39-year-old single mother of two. Subsequently, I photographed her family of about 80 people - her parents, her many siblings and their children and children’s children. Headed by “mom and pop” Mary and Frank Lovejoy, the family elders, the portrait of this expanded Spirit Lake clan is a reflection of both the community’s soulful wounds and its healing with familial bonds.
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