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Almost empty, where to go

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CANASTOTA, N.Y. - Everyone experiences it - that empty feeling when it's time to fill up the gas tank again. The means of transportation becomes a money pit, constantly consuming to keep up with the pace of today's society.

Prices climb from week to week, yet jobs are lost at almost the same pace. The hurt seems to land on deaf ears, but tribal gas stations attempt to help and tribes search for ways to offset the cost themselves.

Many stations offer discounts, some as high as 17 cents off per gallon.

''Right now, all tribal vehicles get a 17-cent discount,'' said Don Kallestewa, Shiwi, owner of the Chevron gas station in Zuni, N.M.

He said that even though his prices are 2 cents higher than the other stations, he has been forced to cut the hours of two employees and has yet to receive aid from the tribe, despite numerous requests.

The Oneida Indian Nation buys its gas under contract with a major oil company and the prices are set daily by harbor oil prices. (The OIN owns Four Directions Media, parent company of Indian Country Today.)

''Our prices have been going up just like everywhere else, to be honest,'' said Kevin Connelly, manager of Business Operations and Development for OIN. Connelly oversees 12 convenience stores/gas stations run by the nation.

Gas at OIN stations is 7 - 10 cents lower than other local stations.

''Our goal is to be 7 cents below the average.''

OIN tries to help its customers even more by offering discounts. Every Tuesday, prices are dropped 5 cents, and earlier this year a new discount program was introduced.

Customers who pay in cash at select locations receive a 7-cent discount. Paying with cash eliminates the 6 to 7 cent per gallon credit card fee.

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''That money is given back to the customer in the form of a discount,'' Connelly said.

With the discounts in place, he said there is an opportunity for customers to save 12 cents per gallon, ''if you are willing to pay cash - and a lot of people seem willing to do that.''

Recently, the Sky Ute Casino Resort, set to open this fall on the Southern Ute reservation near Ignacio, Colo., is exploring mass transit because the tribe is worried that 500-plus new employees will have problems getting to work with gas at more than $4 per gallon.

''This tribe is very fortunate in being able to be self-sustaining,'' said Byron Red Sr., tribal executive officer, Southern Ute Indian Tribe. ''We plan no cutback in tribal services or transportation because of the increase in gas prices.''

The tribe had diversified tribal investments to guard against price increases like this.

''We are just concerned about other tribes,'' he said.

Any impact on transportation for tribal programs is ''very minor'' according to Darwin Whiteman, manager, Ute Mountain Ute Travel Center. Funds can be transferred from one program to another and he said he was not aware of that happening to any great extent. Although tribal officials were not available for comment, a tribal member said informally that people commuting to work - like employees everywhere - were finding that higher gas prices cut into their household budgets.

This often leads to looking at other ways to make extra money.

To help compensate for fuel costs, Krystal Caesar said her family has had to raise prices on many of their goods that they sell at pow wows because of an increase in material costs of beads and metal, along with the increase in gas costs for trips to buy materials. The family's beaded items have increased $2 to $5 and their German silver items have increased 10 to 20 percent.

Information for this article was provided by Indian Country Today correspondents Carol Berry, Brian Daffron, Rebecca Jacobs, Jessica Nicastro and Richard Walker.