Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 3  March, 2011

Ziebach County, South Dakota: America's Poorest County
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South Dakota:  In Ziebach County's barren grasslands, a job may be the hardest thing to find.  More than 60% of the 2,500 residents live at or below the poverty line. Most are Cheyenne River Sioux living on a reservation.

In the winter, seasonal construction work disappears when the prairie freezes. Unemployment rates among the Sioux hits

Poverty is defined by a single person making less than $11,000 a year. For a family of four, it's less than $22,000 a year.

Ziebach is America's poorest county.

Poverty has loomed over this land for generations. Repeated attempts to create jobs have run into stubborn obstacles: an isolated location, crumbling infrastructure, and a poorly trained population.

"There are things that have happened to us over many, many generations that you just can't fix in three or four years," said Kevin Keckler, the tribe's chairman. "We were put here by the government, and we had a little piece of land and basically told to succeed here."

The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation was created in 1889. Its lands are almost entirely agricultural. Most towns are just clusters of homes between cattle ranches. Families live in dilapidated houses or run-down trailers.

Basic services on the reservation are vulnerable. The tribe's health clinic doesn't have a CT scanner or maternity ward.  Ice storms can knock out power and water for weeks, and roads can become impassable with snow and ice.

Cheyenne River has no casino and no oil or available natural resources for income. The few families who own leases to tribal land can make money by raising cattle.

Opportunities are scarce. Some people drive almost 80 miles to work at tribal headquarters.  Others find jobs in Rapid City and Bismarck, but each city is 150 miles away.

The Cheyenne River Sioux have renewed efforts to create jobs and start-up businesses:

Eagle Butte, the reservation's main city, does have a few struggling businesses. The tribe owns the town's only major grocery store, the Lakota Thrifty Mart. There's also a Dairy Queen, a Taco John's and a handful of small cafes. It has no theaters and no bowling alleys.

A few entrepreneurs have tried to build their own businesses. The results have been mixed.

1. One tribal success story is Lakota Technologies who offers call-center and data-processing work. Lakota Technologies has trained hundreds of young people since it started more than a decade ago. They now employ a handful of tribal members on a State Department sub-contract.

2. Stephanie and Gerald Davidson started D&D Plumbing in 2000 with a single pickup truck. D&D began to grow, and they hired several employees. But the economic slump hit them hard. Many customers can't pay for work upfront, and D&D struggles to get new construction contracts. The Davidson's have laid off employees and filled empty space by adding a bait shop and then a deli. Nothing has worked.

The Cheyenne River Tribal Ventures program.  While it looks into ways to reduce reservation poverty, it also works with partners to create and implement strategies

"People think you're a pillar of the community because you have a business, and that part of it is good," Stephanie said. "We don't feel that way right now because we're having such a tough time."

3. Nicky White Eyes quit another job to run a flower shop on Main Street. Some days she doesn't sell a single flower. Most business comes from families who get tribal help to buy flowers for a relative's funeral.

"We're getting by with nothing extra," said White Eyes, who hasn't taken any salary since she began. "But no, I have too much heart in it to let it go quite yet."

4. One failure was a buffalo-meat processing company,  Pte Hca Ka Inc. Pte Hca Ka was sued by a rancher for not delivering on contracts. A federal judge ruled against Pte Hca Ka for $1,100,000.

The federal government funds much of Cheyenne River's economy. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service are three of the reservation's largest employers. Small businesses rely on those employees to keep operating.

Federal dollars are also paying for a new hospital which will create about
150 permanent jobs. Other federal contracts bring sporadic jobs, too.

The nonprofit Four Bands Community Fund invests in both businesses and individuals. The group teaches basic financial skills such as opening a checking account, saving money on a budget, and developing credit.

Still, there are small reasons to hope.

Later this year, Congress will begin payments on a $290,000,000 settlement with the tribe. Cheyenne River had sued the government for building a dam on the Missouri River that flooded thousands of acres of tribal farmlands. The tribe could receive up to $75,000,000 in interest this year alone.

That money can be used for education, developing the economy, and
infrastructure improvement.

Many way the tribe should also make it easier for other companies to come in and invest their money right there.

"We have to attract business,"  said Raymond Uses The Knife, a Cheyenne River tribal councilman. "Regardless of how much money we have, we can't set up our own businesses. We also have to realize that we're all not experts."

Meanwhile, groups like Tribal Ventures and Four Bands work to bring in jobs and help those fighting the obstacles

 "You can have all the heart you want, but you have to have actual cash and resources," said Eileen Briggs of Tribal Ventures. "All those things play a part in our being able to basically use our greatest asset, which is our people."


 Volume 1
On Day Dedicated to Native Americans, A Move to Honor Hopi Tribe's Code Talkers
New Office to Serve as Advocates for Tribal Veterans 
Metis Livid About Proposed Status System
Saying NO to $1 Billion Dollars
New Images of Remote Brazil Tribe
Amazonian Indians More Advanced Than We Knew
Australia's Aborigines to Launch Political Party
Irish Travellers to Shed Light on Indigenous Research

Volume 2
Berenstain Bears to Speak Lakota
Students Tell Saanich Myths Through Computer Animation  
Children's Book Exhibit Depicts Native Path to Diabetes Prevention
Mentoring Program Coming to Kodiak
100% Knights to Create Career Pathways for Aboriginal Students
Arizona Culinary School Recruits American Indians, Now Available for Federal Financial Aid
Book Lets Great Lakes American Indians Tell Their Own Story
Volume 3
UN Declares 2011 the "International Year of Forests"
Think the Super Bowl Battle was Big? Fight Over Conservation Funding Looms Larger
Limit Set for Native Polar Bear Hunters Under International Treaty
White House: Tribes Fare Well in 2012 Budget
Ziebach County South Dakota: America's Poorest County
Top 5 Obama Regulations that American Businesses Hate Most
The Top 11 Corporate Cash Hoarders
Volume 4
Donna Karan Collaborates With an Indigenous Artist as Part of "Nomad Two Worlds" Art Exhibit
Alligator Wrestling and the Men Who Do It
Custer Flag to Be Sold by DIA
Museums Work to Credit the Individuals Behind Native American Artwork
All My Relations Gallery Showcase for Native Art
Grammy Winner Helps Locals Build, Understand Flutes
German TV Crew Films Program About Nokota Horses

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