Businesses come alive at Cheyenne River

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EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - Despite a large population of American Indians in two counties on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, only 1 percent of the businesses were owned by tribal members.

A survey indicated that a community development financial institution was needed, and the Four Bands Community Fund was born in 2000. Business owners praise the work Four Bands has done, not just in helping entrepreneurs start businesses, but in educating young people on personal finances.

A strong work attitude and a business climate with financial education for adults and youth have emerged over the past seven years. Young workers learn the value of saving and working through programs such as the individual deposit account that matches saved funds for college, a business or a home.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is located in one of the poorest counties in the country. Jobs are scarce and outside businesses that perform services for the communities take money out of the community.

''The frustration is the off-site owner; some businesses could be owned by locals,'' said Tanya Fiddler, executive director of Four Bands.

One of the first projects the Four Bands accomplished was identifying what businesses would survive and help the local economy.

Fiddler is supportive of private entrepreneurial ventures, which build personal wealth and wealth for the community, instead of tribal enterprises. She said there was a lot of room for building space in Eagle Butte for businesses that people could own.

For every loan Four Bands makes for a business, an additional 1.5 jobs is created for the community, Fiddler said.

''Most people are looking for opportunities to be productive, and that starts with having the capital investment,'' Fiddler said.

Four Bands has created an atmosphere that brings capital to the forefront for entrepreneurs to begin their quest for viability and financial independence. Not all businesses survive, Fiddler said; but with the proper education through programs like Cheyenne River Entrepreneurial Assistance Training and Education, which teaches would-be entrepreneurs the details of planning a business, managing finances and other aspects of a particular business, the chances are better for survival.

Financial education is a key component of what Four Bands provides. The Four Bands staff is savvy when it comes to business and personal finances. Not all tribal members take part in the education process. Some use excuses like ''the federal government owes me'' or ''I'm not good at math,'' Fiddler said.

''I believe in personal finance training. It empowers people to look at their credit report. We have a credit building program and we help fix and build a good credit report,'' Fiddler said.

''If we make good investments on Cheyenne River and track the data, peoples' lives will be better, life will change; people will manage their IRAs and retirement funds,'' she said.

More than 300 youth have taken the personal finance education program, and most have set up IDA savings accounts. The matching funds help.

Throughout Eagle Butte, young people are working in convenience stores, fast-food and other restaurants, a tribally owned grocery store, a motel and other businesses. They are working for something they want and to establish credit and a savings. It's all the result of the work through the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte school system and Four Bands.

Fiddler said the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is in a position to make changes. ''The more the tribe buys into financial education the better. The tribal government is conducting a program assessment and move toward more performance-based programs; when people have to perform, if they consider accountability, it will set out an expectation for employees,'' she said.

Most business people on the reservation say they are in business to help the community, not specifically to gain wealth. That's the cultural history of the Lakota. Many businesses on the Cheyenne River reservation are changing owners, starting new or expanding, all with the help of Four Bands Community Fund.