Economic development increasing at Pine Ridge Reservation

An article in Indian Country Today highlights the progress that is being made at the poorest Indian reservation, in the poorest county in the United States, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The author claims that new economic development is occuring on the reservation because of an expanding infrastructure, public transit that is now available throughout the 2 million acre reservation, good cell-phone coverage in most areas, and wireless Internet widely available.

Apparently, a federally backed credit union is imminent. As is the case on many Indian reservations, there is currently no bank on Pine Ridge, and off-reservation banks make few loans there to Indians.  Much of reservation land is held in trust by the federal government or is tribally owned in trust and is thus not available as collateral for bank loans. A new credit union could be a "game-changer" by creating "new access to cash and encouraging business formation and homeownership."

“The reservation has 40,000 residents ready, willing and able to participate in the regional economy,” said Mark St. Pierre, chief executive officer of Wounded Knee Community Development Corporation (CDC).  CDC is one of several community groups and nonprofits with seed grants and creative ideas. They’re where the real economic action is, says St. Pierre, with plans ranging from small businesses to housing, a critical need on Pine Ridge. His CDC is looking for funding to build a destination resort on the 600 acres it owns in Manderson Valley and a factory that would make high-end caskets, then expand to other types of millwork."

A consortium with Oglala Lakota College’s (OLC) Applied Science Department, and the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative, a project of architect and University of Colorado's Rob Pyatt will start building four houses this summer—one conventionally framed and the others built of insulated panels, straw bales or compressed-earth blocks. College students will place sensors in the homes to see which offers the best energy efficiency at the least cost. 

The author has an interesting insight that I have also raised in my new book, Robert J. Miller, Reservation "Capitalism:" Economic Development in Indian Country (Praeger Publishers 2012), that Pine Ridge and other Indian reservations contribute generously to state economies because the money that arrives in Native communities is immediately spent in nearby border towns, without changing hands and producing income in reservation businesses first. “Keeping money on the reservation and supporting our mom-and-pop businesses is the big issue,” said Emma Featherman-Sam, Oglala, coordinator of Oglala Sioux Transit.

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