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In South Dakota new start for state-tribal relations

LOWER BRULE, S.D. - The workers are there, but the jobs aren't for the workers on South Dakota reservations, and tribal officials claim the state is not doing enough to partner with the tribes.

Economic development officials from tribes and state legislators on the State-Tribal Relations committee met to continue discussion on efforts to create a cooperative working relationship to establish better economic conditions on the state's nine reservations.

"We have 170 people on Rosebud interested in going into business," said Leon "Butch" Artichoker, director of economic development for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

"For a business incubator we need $6.5 million and the best we can hope for from the Economic Development Authority is $800,000.

"We don't know how to access all state resources; maybe there should be a screening mechanism to find a fit. We need help," he said.

Past projects from corporations that bring in packaged businesses have been met with failure on most reservations. Pork processing plants, computer board construction, moccasin factories and many others have failed to provide any meaningful employment.

"Private business works better," Artichoker said.

But funding private businesses on reservations becomes difficult. Land held in trust, lack of experience, low education levels and isolation cause many lenders to pull in the reigns before committing to a new venture.

Even though mainstream media touts the piles of money made by Indian casinos in various parts of the country, that is simply not the case in South Dakota or in the upper Great Plains.

"Most revenue is to meet the social needs of the tribe," Artichoker said of the Rosebud Casino. "Casino funds were to support grant programs, although we asked to have some funds set aside for economic development."

He said the Rosebud Sioux Tribe now has $300,000 for economic development. It will be used to leverage more funds to open a truck stop.

"The state should keep its fingers on the pulse of the (Indian gaming) compacts. If the number of devices increase, it may allow tribes to create more revenue. That's one area where we can help," said state Sen. Mike LaPointe, R-Mission.

The state can help tribes develop economically if the two parties find a common ground and learn more about each other, Artichoker said.

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"Come to the reservations and see how we see things. Our tradition has to do with the land. Our ancestors are in the land. They decompose and we breathe them in every day," Artichoker said.

"There is a difference in values and philosophy."

Help from the state through understanding may just have a spin off benefit for the state. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe is building a detention facility that may help relieve some county or state facilities and it will also provide employment for 20 people.

Sen. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, said the $13 million spent to expand the state correction facility could have used $1 million in state funds to help build or expand a facility on a reservation. Pine Ridge is also building a multi-million facility paid for through federal grants.

But years of adversarial relationships between the state and the tribes has resulted in ineffective economic and housing development while causing racial tensions.

"I'm in my 25th year as tribal chairman. The (state) players have changed, but the attitudes have not and that is disheartening," said Chairman Michael Jandreau of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

"I hope you will be the catalysts for change in attitudes," he told the legislative committee members.

"The tribes try to develop but the resources are limited. The Attorney General's office drives a wedge between the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the state and unless it is dealt with legislatively it will be an impediment. We need a change of attitude and it can only come through work with the tribes," Jandreau said.

He said the tribe has few businesses but still works to turn a dollar over at least one or two times before it leaves the reservation. "State government needs to be committed to all of its citizens and understand that some have spiritual needs."

Unemployment on the Lower Brule Reservation is 24 - 26 percent. On Pine Ridge and Rosebud it is between 75 and 85 percent. Those figures are not figured into the states unemployment numbers, which the state department of labor claims an unemployment rate of just above six percent. That includes people in the labor force, or those who are actively looking for work.

-Rep. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, said the mistrust came from both sides. "This committee is really concerned from what I've seen. The state is scared to invest on the reservation and the reservations don't want them there. Some of us want to see things grow for our grandchildren. I would like to see the chairmen come to us unified," he said.

"You (Chairman Jandreau) are willing to put the past aside. We all know it will help everyone. We have people for jobs, but no jobs for people and many on Pine Ridge don't want to move to Rapid City," Bradford said.

"Years ago the state would support programs on reservations unless there was a real problem. The state was a catalyst to help tribes get funding. Support from the state would be more viable and it doesn't cost the state anything," Jandreau said.