Located in south central South Dakota, the Rosebud Reservation is home to a branch of the Lakota people known as the Sicangu Oyate or the Upper Brule Sioux. Historically nomadic, the Sicangu roamed throughout the Great Plains, following the buffalo, the animal upon whom they relied for survival.
In the late 1800s, after gold was discovered in South Dakota's Black Hills, the federal government fought the Lakota to gain exclusive control over their ancestral homelands for farming, ranching and mining. The wars ended with the government forcing the Sicangu onto the Rosebud Reservation.
Residents of the reservation and the small, primarily white, towns that grew up just outside of its borders have had an uneasy relationship. As a civil rights lawyer, I represented Native American students in a lawsuit against one town's public school system. For years, white district administrators had tried to force indigenous students out of the district by disproportionally punishing and criminally prosecuting them for minor infractions.
I began to photograph these towns, their people and their surrounding landscape to understand better the prejudice and animosity that gave rise to the lawsuit. Over time, I realized that many residents saw themselves in an ongoing struggle with the Lakota for what limited economic resources the Great Plains had to offer.