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Business-to-business, on and off the reservations

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ Partnerships in business have long been beneficial and essential, but in some of the poorest regions in the country such partnerships have also been only a dream Ö until recently.

A group of local business leaders from Rapid City traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation recently to immerse themselves in cultural awareness, gain insights into the need for businesses there and learn of the difficulties entrepreneurs face on a reservation.

It was a first step in a positive direction, organizers said.

Partnering with individuals and organizations may take more effort than a quick meeting promises, but with the help of the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce and its 120 members and business leaders from the reservation and Rapid City, the task may be doable and a win-win for everyone, participants said.

That partnership could come with a cooperative effort in tourism, South Dakotaís second largest industry; it could come by way of the arts; it could come by way of assistance in business and financial advice.

John Carlson, president of Highmark Federal Credit Union and of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, said he was surprised at the difficulty tribal members had with starting a business because of the issue over land, and the leasing of land. He added that he learned from the experience, noting that the meeting was very positive.

Oglala Lakota College has changed the playing field of education for Pine Ridge from sending students to schools to learn carpentry and domestic chores to earning degrees in nursing, education, business and Lakota studies.

ìPeople thought we were not smart enough to become professional people, that we were uncivilized, so we were sent to trade schools,î Tom Short Bull, president of Oglala Lakota College, said.

Now, 86 percent of the teachers on Pine Ridge are OLC graduates. And a majority of nurses on the reservation graduated from Pine Ridge.

ìOLC is a shining light for positive change,î Short Bull said.

Many women who attend OLC come from poverty situations; and nursing graduates, Short Bull said, can earn upwards of $50,000 a year.

One message business leaders heard was that people donít want to leave the reservation, yet few professional jobs await those who return with degrees. The college, tribal government, the IHS, BIA and schools are where most of the professionals work, he said.

American Indian artists look for markets in which to sell their work but that market is rare on the reservation, so it would be helpful for Rapid City or other larger communities to help provide a market, artists said.

Businesses in Rapid City were asked to purchase and display artwork by local Lakota artists.

ìI see an opportunity for sponsorship, a mini art show, outreach and a venue to develop a market in Rapid City like that in Santa Fe,î said Art Zimiga, Lakota and director of American Indian education at the Rapid City School District.

ìSanta Fe charges a 1 percent bed tax that goes to support the arts. The opportunities are there,î Zimiga said.

Rapid City Mayor Jim Shaw said that Rapid City could do the same thing as in Santa Feís Indian Art Market. ìThe [Rapid City] community can join with the artists to get things to happen. I am anxious to help make this happen,î Shaw said.

To get people from Pine Ridge to think about wealth and business will take a lot of work, said Elsie Meeks, executive director of First Nations Oweesta Corporation.

ìItís a lot of work to teach people how to budget, to make rent payments or pay a mortgage, and get them to a place where people can own something,î she said.

ìThere is no way to hire people from here to help people here, there are no skills; we need to build relationships. We have to take a look at the community and think differently.î

Bankers will be welcomed to the discussion to lend their expertise, she said.

Karlene Hunter, CEO of Lakota Express, said that what takes 18 months to start a business outside the reservation will take two to three years on any reservation.

ìWe are looking to provide prime businesses on the reservation for a win-win for the entire region,î Hunter said.

Lakota Express has partnered with a business entity in Dallas, and Hunter said she would like to do the same in Rapid City: ìThere is a lot of opportunity and we would like to see what we can come up with.î

ìWhat a wonderful spiritual day this has been. What a tremendous opportunity to meet one on one with people. Rapid City has two sister cities, one in Japan and the other in Germany; thatís wonderful, but I would hope that we can consider in our minds and hearts a third sister city, and that would be the Pine Ridge Reservation,î said Shaw.

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ Partnerships in business have long been beneficial and essential, but in some of the poorest regions in the country such partnerships have also been only a dream Ö until recently.A group of local business leaders from Rapid City traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation recently to immerse themselves in cultural awareness, gain insights into the need for businesses there and learn of the difficulties entrepreneurs face on a reservation.It was a first step in a positive direction, organizers said.Partnering with individuals and organizations may take more effort than a quick meeting promises, but with the help of the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce and its 120 members and business leaders from the reservation and Rapid City, the task may be doable and a win-win for everyone, participants said.That partnership could come with a cooperative effort in tourism, South Dakotaís second largest industry; it could come by way of the arts; it could come by way of assistance in business and financial advice.John Carlson, president of Highmark Federal Credit Union and of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, said he was surprised at the difficulty tribal members had with starting a business because of the issue over land, and the leasing of land. He added that he learned from the experience, noting that the meeting was very positive.Oglala Lakota College has changed the playing field of education for Pine Ridge from sending students to schools to learn carpentry and domestic chores to earning degrees in nursing, education, business and Lakota studies.ìPeople thought we were not smart enough to become professional people, that we were uncivilized, so we were sent to trade schools,î Tom Short Bull, president of Oglala Lakota College, said.Now, 86 percent of the teachers on Pine Ridge are OLC graduates. And a majority of nurses on the reservation graduated from Pine Ridge.ìOLC is a shining light for positive change,î Short Bull said.Many women who attend OLC come from poverty situations; and nursing graduates, Short Bull said, can earn upwards of $50,000 a year. One message business leaders heard was that people donít want to leave the reservation, yet few professional jobs await those who return with degrees. The college, tribal government, the IHS, BIA and schools are where most of the professionals work, he said.American Indian artists look for markets in which to sell their work but that market is rare on the reservation, so it would be helpful for Rapid City or other larger communities to help provide a market, artists said.Businesses in Rapid City were asked to purchase and display artwork by local Lakota artists. ìI see an opportunity for sponsorship, a mini art show, outreach and a venue to develop a market in Rapid City like that in Santa Fe,î said Art Zimiga, Lakota and director of American Indian education at the Rapid City School District.ìSanta Fe charges a 1 percent bed tax that goes to support the arts. The opportunities are there,î Zimiga said.Rapid City Mayor Jim Shaw said that Rapid City could do the same thing as in Santa Feís Indian Art Market. ìThe [Rapid City] community can join with the artists to get things to happen. I am anxious to help make this happen,î Shaw said.To get people from Pine Ridge to think about wealth and business will take a lot of work, said Elsie Meeks, executive director of First Nations Oweesta Corporation.ìItís a lot of work to teach people how to budget, to make rent payments or pay a mortgage, and get them to a place where people can own something,î she said.ìThere is no way to hire people from here to help people here, there are no skills; we need to build relationships. We have to take a look at the community and think differently.îBankers will be welcomed to the discussion to lend their expertise, she said.Karlene Hunter, CEO of Lakota Express, said that what takes 18 months to start a business outside the reservation will take two to three years on any reservation. ìWe are looking to provide prime businesses on the reservation for a win-win for the entire region,î Hunter said.Lakota Express has partnered with a business entity in Dallas, and Hunter said she would like to do the same in Rapid City: ìThere is a lot of opportunity and we would like to see what we can come up with.îìWhat a wonderful spiritual day this has been. What a tremendous opportunity to meet one on one with people. Rapid City has two sister cities, one in Japan and the other in Germany; thatís wonderful, but I would hope that we can consider in our minds and hearts a third sister city, and that would be the Pine Ridge Reservation,î said Shaw.