Yes, it’s dramatic, I know. But death is a dramatic thing in the scheme of life. The end.
So how long do you expect to live? I realize “when you die” is effected by many events and even things you have no control over, like genetics and accidents. My own father defied the law of averages – on the short end, unfortunately – and died at the age of 36. I already have 20 years more than that. So, I wonder, am I on schedule? Will I be average? Or maybe fate will give me extra years.
What in the world is average these days? It has surely increased from the days when my grandparents ate a high fat diet and smoked, living into their 60’s and no further.
I decided to check on average life expectancy so I could make my plans for my future and also because I know that my friends on Pine Ridge Reservation may not have the same time available. I tell you what I mean in a minute, be patient.
According to the United Nations World Population Prospects report for 2005–2010, which I found on the Wikipedia link for life expectancy (which I’ll post at the end of my “sermon”), if I am average (unlikely), I should live to be about 81 years old (80.8 if you are into technicalities). Glad I’m a woman! If I were a male, I’d be 75.6 years old on average.
As I looked at the chart, some things stood out. The United States, with all its wealth and wonders, is number 38 out of 194 on this list. Who was number one? Japan, followed rather closely by Hong Kong. So perhaps I should move to the far east – I could get an extra 5 years, right? Or maybe the damage is already done after 58 years in the USA. Besides, it’s a much different culture and I’d miss my friends. What looks good that closer?
Canada! Canada is in a 4-way tie for eighth place (with Israel, Macau, and France). It’s not far away and I love hockey! Canadians are great fun and apparently I could get about 2 more years just by moving several hundred miles. Okay!
My friends on the Pine Ridge Reservation – I told you I’d get back to them – may not be around as long as I am. Or at least as long as I have the chance to be! Why not? They live in the USA, too, don’t they? They should have the same life expectancy as me, right? WRONG!!
Life expectancy on Pine Ridge Reservation, which is in the poorest county in the USA, is dramatically and significantly lower than the rest of the nation.
The average life expectancy on Pine Ridge for men is 48 years and for women it is 52 years. (No wonder you are considered an elder at 50 on the rez!)
I have seen this borne out in the past 5 years, as I have read the obituaries in the Rapid City Journal every day. Just this morning, there were two infants that were listed there. Infant mortality on Pine Ridge is many times the national average. So is the suicide rate. There are many socio-economic reasons for this low life expectancy. But I can’t solve them. I probably couldn’t even list them all.
My point in writing this is not to debate the causes.
My point in writing this post is to say that IT IS WRONG!!
It is utterly, completely wrong that certain people, because they are born in a small, nearly forgotten part of the United States of America, have a life expectancy that is ALMOST 30 YEARS LOWER than it would be if they were born a couple hundred miles away.
The 2-3 years I might gain if I were Canadian are insignificant to me.
The 30 years my friends would have gained if they were born elsewhere are very significant!!
If my father had an extra 30 years, he’d have known his grandchildren and they would have known him.
Have you lost someone? Would you have wanted them to have 30 more years?
The low life expectancy on Pine Ridge Reservation hurts people. Elders who end up caring for grandchildren whose parent or parents have died; children who lose a parent, sibling or friend; single parents who have lost a spouse and are left to raise children alone; young parents who lose a baby at birth or shortly after – all of these are hurt by the shortened life expectancy — or at least by the conditions that lead to it.
Why should people living in one small part of South Dakota die, on average, so much younger than the rest of us in the United States?
And perhaps more importantly, why do we continue to allow it?
Why is it that no one in authority is declaring an emergency? Why aren’t the national news media outlets in an uproar? Apparently no one thinks it’s wrong to have American citizens living the same length of time as citizens of Burundi (177), South Africa (178), Somalia (181) and Nigeria (182, which is 30% below the world average).
What could be the reason for the similar life spans in Pine Ridge, SD, USA and Burundi, tucked between Rwanda and Tanzania? Here are blurbs from Wikipedia’s information on each place.
Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries, owing in part to its landlocked geography, poor legal system, lack of access to education, and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS. Approximately 80% of Burundi’s population lives in poverty. Famines and food shortages have occurred throughout Burundi, most notably in the 20th century, and according to the World Food Programme, 56.8% of children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition. One scientific study of 178 nations rated Burundi’s population as having the lowest satisfaction with life in the world. As a result of poverty, Burundi is dependent on foreign aid.
Although Pine Ridge is the eighth largest reservation in the United States, it is also the poorest. Unemployment on the reservation hovers between 80% and 85%, and 49% live below the Federal poverty level. Adolescent suicide is four times the national average. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewerage system. Many families use wood stoves to heat their homes. The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 48 years for males and 52 years for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average.
I’ll let you decide about the similarities. I’ve visited Pine Ridge Reservation. I’ve seen the living conditions. I have my opinion already.
If you’re reading this and you are on Pine Ridge Rez, don’t lose heart. Look for ways to improve your odds of living a long life.
If you’re reading this and live somewhere other than the reservation, thank your lucky stars for the gift you have in your life.
After you have given thanks, DO SOMETHING to change this terrible discrepancy that mocks us as Americans!! Tell someone else, share what you know, call all the government officials you can, give to charities that benefit those on Pine Ridge.
(stepping down from my soap box — for now)
Link to the UN life expectancy report: