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Foundation helps three tribes fight poverty

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Northwest Area Foundation partnered with three tribes to
help alleviate economic conditions and reduce their poverty levels with a
nearly $30 million grant award.

Each tribe will receive from $6 million to $10 million over a 10-year grant
period to assist in the implementation of strategic plans to improve
economic development, housing, infrastructure and self-sufficiency.

The three tribes partnered with the NWA Foundation are the Cheyenne River
Sioux in South Dakota, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota
and the Lummi Nation in Washington state.

Each is located in states crossed by the Northwest Railroad in the 19th
century while opening the West to settlement. The Northwest Railroad was
owned by James J. Hill. Hill's son, Louis, organized the foundation, which
contributes funds to assist areas that are high in unemployment and
poverty.

"We are very honored and very excited to form this unique relationship with
three distinct American Indian nations," stated Karl Stauber, president and
CEO of the NWA Foundation, in a prepared statement.

"We are eager to join each reservation community in implementing strategies
that will go long and deep in an effort to reduce poverty for the long
term."

The strategy is to gather information on the lessons learned from the three
tribes' efforts so that more work to end poverty throughout Indian country
will be possible.

"This project represents a long-term commitment to address the symptoms of
poverty our people face. It lies at the root of many of Lummi's problems,
and we see this funding as a chance to help our people become
self-sufficient," said Darrell Hillaire, chairman of the Lummi Nation.

The Lummi plan's main focus is to encourage economic development by
creating an employable work force by way of education, child care and
transportation. Those areas will help people overcome barriers to
employment, said Rena Priest, public relations director for the Lummi
Nation.

"Largely we want to maintain and sustain community without giving up our
cultural identity or as much as we can hold on to, and create an employable
workforce and exist as a thriving people," Priest said.

The Lummi Nation has long historic connections to the fishing industry, but
outside forces have created an atmosphere that has nearly devastated Lummi
fishing and impacted their cultural inheritance.

"It [fishing] doesn't look like a reality that will be revitalized," Priest
said.

Micro-enterprises, with the aid of a revolving loan fund to assist
individual entrepreneurs succeed in business, are also part of the Lummi
plan.

Of the 3,900 people who live on the Lummi reservation, 28 percent live
below the poverty level and the average individual income is $10,785. The
Lummi Nation will receive up to $5 million in the 10-year project.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has more people living below the poverty
level -- 46 percent -- with the average individual income level at $7,026.
The tribe will receive $2.5 million in the first year and, if goals are
met, could receive up to $7 million for the 10-year grant period. Cheyenne
River will work on a plan that will create jobs at remote villages and
promote economic development throughout the reservation.

"The tribe is looking forward to strengthening our families, our
communities and our partnerships as we implement our Tribal Ventures
10-Year Poverty Reduction Plan," said Harold Frazier, chairman of the
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

The plans Cheyenne River has in store focus on developing job skills, with
an emphasis on the culture. Reservation-wide community learning centers
will provide entrepreneurial training. The learning centers will be a
location for community gathering that will also serve to include more
community-based services.

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"When we have a skilled work force, then they can compete for jobs and have
an opportunity to impact the regional economy," said Sharon Vogel, program
administrator.

Vogel said three phases of their plan are grounded in cultural values.

"One thing we appreciated about the foundation is they let us develop
tribally designed initiatives that will allow us to become who we are. We
will incorporate that into the plan; that's who we are and who we want to
remain," Vogel said.

Cheyenne River has a buffalo ranch with a processing facility that has
expanded to beef and pork. Vogel said with more skilled workers, the plant
can expand further.

"It is a collective wisdom that put this plan together. We are excited
about it. There were a lot of good thoughts that came forward, and we will
build on the recommendations," Vogel said.

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, on the northernmost border of North
Dakota, plans to include the people who live in poverty in the
decision-making and creative processes to help reduce the level of poverty.

Currently, most jobs for the roughly 8,000 residents on the reservation are
light industry in nearby towns, a few local businesses and a small casino.
Government contracts dictate many of the jobs, which are sporadic.

The average income of a resident of Turtle Mountain reservation is $8,855.
At least 36 percent of the residents live beneath the poverty level.

Economic development, the revitalization of downtown, a revolving loan fund
and expanded tourism are part of the pathways Turtle Mountain expects to
accomplish.

A revolving loan fund will assist people who have traditionally been
discriminated against by the banking and loan industry to acquire housing
and startup funds for businesses.

"Anyone with a business idea will go through business training," said
Jeremy Laducer, project manager for the loan.

New Markets Tax Credits and low- and earned-income credits will fit into
the plan to develop businesses and create housing.

"We will come up with a marketing scheme to show what we have," Laducer
said.

"We definitely want to see the unemployment rate go down. We would like to
meet housing needs; we are 600 houses short of the demand. We want to
create a stable economy in the community.

"We want a self-sustained community," Laducer said.

Integral to the entire economic plan is the establishment of a privately
owned bank on the reservation. Construction for the building is set for
this year.

"I have always thought that American Indian tribes needed the equivalent of
the Marshall Plan, in which the United States rebuilt Europe after World
War II. I see this project as that type of effort," said Ken Davis, Turtle
Mountain tribal chairman.

"We look forward to planting the seeds necessary for us to grow and build
not only a self-sustaining economy, but also our most valuable resource:
the members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa," Davis said.