Tribal members such as White Dress now quietly acknowledge that although the occupation put Pine Ridge on the map, it has had little lasting effects. With unemployment on the reservation as high as 80 percent, a job in tribal government is coveted. And for those who don't have one, life can be hard, White Dress said.
"There's a lot of animosity amongst the people," added White Dress, who is unemployed and takes care of her grandchildren.
Those same divisions were evident 40 years ago at the start of the occupation and the previous decade when members of AIM and their backers fought then-tribal President Dick Wilson and his supporters, as well as the FBI, which has jurisdiction on tribal land.
"It hasn't changed at all, which is sad," said Wendell Bird Head, a tribal member who now lives in Cresent, Iowa, and teaches Lakota. Bird Head was 19 when the standoff started and tried unsuccessfully to get past the road blocks to join in.
Others, however, are adamant that the occupation brought about greater sovereignty for tribes.
"Tribes started getting independent and speaking up," said Herb Powless, 76, of Oneida, Wis.
Powless, a member of the Oneida Nation, traveled to Pine Ridge in the early 70s at the behest of AIM following the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder, an Oglala Sioux tribal member killed by four white men.
Powless later was arrested in Hot Springs after authorities found 600 pounds of dynamite and a variety of weapons in his car. Already a convicted felon, he spent a year in prison in Sioux Falls.
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