This story appears in the August 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Cover Potential Photographer Aaron Huey was hanging out with young Wanahca Rowland and her cousin near Wounded Knee, South Dakota, when he had an idea. He asked the kids if they’d like to be on the cover of National Geographic and held up the mock yellow border he’d printed on a piece of acetate. For these girls—as well as other members of the tribe whose photos don’t appear in the story—the frame generated smiles and, Huey hopes, a sense of inclusion. “It was a way that I could say, This is about you too.” —Catherine Zuckerman
Behind the Lens
Q: Why is this picture important to you?
A: It represents the positive side of the Oglala world. There are happy people on the reservation. These girls, Wanahca Rowland (holding frame) and Nape Pejuta Win Rowland, live a free life out in the hills. Wanahca’s mother is Olowan Thunder Hawk Martinez, who is leading an antialcohol campaign. Her house became a home base, of sorts, for me.
Q: How has your relationship with the people of Pine Ridge evolved?
A: It started as a statistic. I was going to do a larger survey on poverty, and Pine Ridge was one of my stops because it had been one of the poorest counties in America for 30 years in a row. I didn’t know much about treaties or any of the other issues when I first went out there in 2005. But I got sucked in and just couldn’t believe what I was seeing, that this was real. Over time I became very close with a bunch of families; we call each other brother, sister. The evolution is incredibly complex, and I will definitely return. A few years ago I chose to take a side—their side—and to be not just a journalist but also an advocate.