Native Village Youth and Education News

April 1, 2009 Issue 196 Volume 3

Black out during white out
By Vincent Schilling
Condensed by Native Village


Central Electric Locations


Crow Creek Reservation, SD:  During winter months, Central Electric Cooperative's policy is to provide electricity to its customers regardless of their ability to pay. However, Crow Creek Sioux Reservation tribal members have had their power turned off in severe blizzard conditions. Some have medical conditions that require the use of electricity. Others have small children and/or elderly in the home.

It all began in 1955 when Central Electric displaced an entire town of Crow Creek residents to build Big Bend Dam as a source of electricity. Tribal members say CEC promised to rebuild the schools and buildings abandoned after the move. They also say the company promised to provide free electricity. Big Bend was completed nine years later. None of those promises have been kept.

In fact, tribal residents’ pay 33% higher electric rates than the national average.

While Central Electric denies unfair treatment, videos from resident and former Marine Peter Lengkeek prove the company is not being forthcoming.

In June 2008, Lengkeek met Eric Klein. Klein is founder of CAN-DO, an organization that provides aid and relief in emergencies. Eric and Can-Do were delivering supplies to Crow Creek.
The two met, and Lengkeek told Klein how Central Electric turned off electric service during the coldest months because customers couldn't pay.

Klein took the video footage from Lengkeek and posted it on his organization’s Web site.

Central Electric responded and denied that electric service had been discontinued. They claimed the video is not a true description of the process and claimed.

"Central Electric follows the South Dakota Public Utility laws for disconnecting electric services for non-payment, which means we will disconnect a service for non-payment at the appropriate time,” the company wrote. “Central Electric does have a winter disconnect procedure whereby no meters are disconnected in cold or inclement weather. Also, Central Electric does not disconnect services when there is a medical necessity for electricity. Central Electric works very close with the tribal leadership groups and tribal members to minimize the need to disconnect services. In fact, there have not been any disconnects for the past three months.”
However, it is Klein’s claim which appears to be true. The CAN-DO Web site shows copies of customer utility discontinuation notices. They are dated within severe winter timeframes.

“The electric company says that they are not going to cut you off in inclement weather, but they’ve been doing it,” Klein said. “We have proof that the company has been doing it since 2006. The housing board gave me all of the information.”

Crow Creek reservation with its 80% unemployment rate lies close to Central Electric.  Klein wonders why residents pay one-third higher rates than the rest of the country.

“We were told originally that the electricity came from Chicago, but it does come from Central Electric Cooperative. They do have the power to give them the free electricity. They said there are 500 meters on the reservation, and we are only a small operation. That is not true because the electric company supplies electricity to eight states. [Senators from those states] would probably be interested to know that the power that is coming to the states is actually originating from the reservation.”

Lengkeek praised the work of Klein and CAN-DO.

“I have no words for what Eric Klein and CAN-DO have helped us do. It took awhile for us to trust Eric because of people who have come here in the past. We prayed on it and were told that Eric is the man who will help us. CAN-DO is providing hope in a place where there is no hope.”


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