The Digital Journalist

I looked outside and saw the children had stopped running around.
by Dai Kurokawa
Of all the reservations in the country Pine Ridge is the poorest and the Oglala Indians are the most beaten down.
by Michael A. Shapiro
Putting the viewfinder to my eye became not just the way to make pictures -- it offered a momentary escape from the macabre scene playing out right in front of me.
by David Bathgate


This month we present three dispatches: Dai Kurokawa reporting on the Thailand-Burma border. [We have chosen to stay with Kurokawa's use of "Burma," though most media refer to the country by the military government's choice of "Myanmar." People in the adjacent countries do not use the imposed name—it is a political choice. And, as I understand it, the U.S. government does not recognize the name or government.] Michael A. Shapiro visited Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, staying with a remarkable family who helps many children while dealing with the alcoholism of a son. In Afghanistan, David Bathgate observes heroin addiction and sees firsthand one of the country's very few treatment centers.

In 1948, Burma won its independence from England and U Nu became prime minister. In 1949, the Karens and other ethnic minority groups began their fight to establish their own autonomous state – the long struggle continues and Kurokawa presents a glimpse into that fight. The parliamentary government was overthrown by the military in 1962. Another general, Saw Maung, seized power in 1988 and changed the country's name to Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch reported this July that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had made a public statement about the situation: "Repeated abuses committed against men, women and children living along the Thai-[Burmese] border violate many provisions of international humanitarian law." The abuses include the continued recruitment and use of child soldiers, extrajudicial executions, rape of women and girls, torture, and forced relocation.

The confusing thing is that there are TWO rebellions going on at once. In addition to the fight for an autonomous state by minorities, the National League for Democracy with leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been repressed and was not allowed to assume rule after they won a landslide victory in 1990 in Burma's first multi-party elections for 30 years. It is this later conflict of the majority Burmese against the ruling military government that we generally hear about.

Pine Ridge Reservation sits in Shannon County, South Dakota, the poorest county in the country. It's no wonder that as Michael Shapiro points out, Pine Ridge is also the poorest reservation in the country. The home of the Oglala Tribe is 2,000,000 acres with an estimated population of close to 40,000. The reservation's needs are immense. It faces many problems and one of them is alcoholism. Statistics show the death rate from alcoholism alone is 627% higher compared to everyone else in the U.S.A.! The number of diseases spiraling out of control is breathtaking—and disease is just one thing that needs to be tackled.

In October of 2004 an article in The Washington Post said that the "failings of the federal government -- from mismanaging Indian money held in trust to shortchanging programs it is legally bound to fund -- continually undermine efforts here at self-help." Dwellings are often poorly constructed and in urgent need of repair. The problems seem overwhelming and need to be faced by the country as a whole.

David Bathgate's dispatch on the immense heroin problem in Kabul, Afghanistan, is backed up by many other sources. A United Nations survey confirmed that there are nearly a million drug abusers in Afghanistan—200,000 of them are hard-core opium and heroin addicts. The same Dr. Tariq Suliman who met with Bathgate at the Nejat Center explained that often both men and women started taking drugs while living in refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan or Iran during the war against the Soviet Union, or the subsequent civil war. For thousands of these refugees, he says, drugs were one of the only ways to relieve the pain and frustration of camp life.

Marianne Fulton
Dispatches Editor

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