By Vi Waln
MISSION – A task force created by the South Dakota House of Representatives met here last week to hear presentations by the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux Tribes.
Members of the Tribal Economic Development Task Force opened their meeting with a presentation by Clark Guthmiller of the US Department of Agriculture at the July 10 meeting. Also addressing the Task Force were Wizipan Little Elk, Chief Executive Officer of REDCO (Rosebud Economic Development Corporation) and Blaine Little Thunder, Eagle Nest Council Representative from Wanblee.
“We would love working with REDCO on getting some grant money for Rosebud,” stated Guthmiller. He shared information on available funding opportunities in the areas of Rural Business/Community Programs, Rural Housing Programs and Rural Utilities.
REDCO currently operates ten businesses on the Rosebud Reservation. They employ 32 people, most of which are tribal members, and generate $6 million in revenue every year. Current priorities in economic development include (1) land/agriculture, (2) renewable energy, (3) technology and (4) financing.
REDCO is currently working on developing the Tatanka Fund, which will be a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) serving the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. A loan project is also being developed for tribal members to apply for financing for business endeavors. A third project is the Keya Wakpala Waicageyapi. The 600-acre site, where the Turtle Creek Crossing Grocery Store is located, is designated for a resilient community development project.
“The old model in agriculture has always been to lease out our land at dirt cheap rates and watch others get rich,” stated Little Elk. “We have to do something different. Rosebud has 1600 acres available to farm, but no people to operate combine equipment. We need to get some of our folks training to operate heavy equipment.”
Little Elk also presented several recommendations to the Task Force in the areas of tribal economic development legislation, taxes and intergovernmental agreements, existing government spending, business incentives and relationships, grant funding, and investing in education and work force development on the reservation.
“When the Tribe wins, the State wins,” stated Little Elk. He urged the Task Force members to consider using tribal businesses, such as Sicangu Office Products and Sicangu Program, to purchase goods the State is already using. “There are advantages to partnering with the Tribe,” he said.
“The reservations are a pass through area for a lot of money,” stated Tuffy Lunderman, Rosebud Sioux Tribe Vice-President. That is, even though the tribe has an unemployment rate of 80%, there is still a lot of money that comes into the reservation through employment, retirement and social service programs. Most of that money is spent off the reservation and doesn’t cycle back to the local tribal economy.
“Imagine what your body would do if you lost 86% of your blood,” stated Michael LaPointe, a Rosebud tribal member. “86 cents of every dollar leaves the reservation and doesn’t return. If that money turned here, like it does in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, we would have three quarters of a billion dollar economy.”
“So often government is just not the answer,” stated Representative Don Haggar. “We sell ourselves short if we don’t acknowledge what is happening in Indian Country. We brag about South Dakota having a low unemployment rate, but we forget about the 80% unemployment on the nine reservations.”
“Lots of times we hear the State doesn’t care about what happens on the reservations or that the reservations don’t care what happens with the State, but that’s just not true,” stated Representative Elizabeth May.
“We can only go up from here, that is where the Tribe and REDCO are looking,” stated Little Elk. “It is embedded in our culture to have high standards and we have to return to that. We are intent on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but we need help getting a pair of boots.”
Representative Haggar, who serves as Chair, sponsored HB 1213 to create the Tribal Economic Development Task Force during the 2014 Legislative Session. The group was formed to work at improving economic development strategies on the nine Indian Reservations in South Dakota. Other Representatives who serve on the task force are Elizabeth May and Mike Verchio. Senators Jim Bradford, Craig Tieszen and Bruce Rampelberg are also members. Steve Emery, Secretary of the SD Department of Tribal Relations, along with Mark DeVries and Kathy Tyler are also members of the task force.
Tribal representatives include Task Force Vice-Chair Roxanne Sazue (Crow Creek), Steven Sitting Bear (Standing Rock), John Yellow Bird Steele (Pine Ridge) Sarah Zephier (Yankton), Chuck Jones (Lower Brule), Harold Frazier (Cheyenne River), Anthony Reider (Flandreau), Tuffy Lunderman (Rosebud) and DelRay German (Sisseton Wahpeton).
The meeting was broadcasted live by RST Channel 93. An archive of the meeting can be viewed online at Tribal Economic Development Task Force on You Tube. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday, August 28 and will be held in Sioux Falls. Presentations from the Yankton and Flandreau Sioux Tribes will be heard. For more information on the Tribal Economic Development Task Force, you may call Roxanne Hammond, Attorney for the SD Legislative Research Council, at (605) 773-3251.