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Jobs and the economy spur talks in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. - In a country where the unemployment rate is climbing and the economy is sluggish at best, people on American Indian reservations rarely are affected by any surge in growth or drop in jobs; they live it every day.

The Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations list unemployment between 70 and 80 percent. It affects the economy of the state, small communities and localities. It affects education, law enforcement, family connections and adds to incarceration in the state and federal prisons. But that's no secret.

The state and tribes recently started a dialogue on how to fix the problem for both. State-Tribal Relations Committee Chairman Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, asked the question repeatedly during a two-day meeting: What can the state do to help?

While parts of the country are losing ground in economic growth, South Dakota had a slight increase. But growth in the area and on many of the state's nine reservations remains stagnant even at a time when more private business opportunities are available.

"The state can help. Now there are new ideas about working with the tribes by the state. It's an opportunity to move into limited partnerships to create lasting jobs," said Michael Jandreau, chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

"What happens on the reservations, the benefit flows to communities next to the reservations. If we can just begin to make a decent living on our reservation it will benefit the whole state," he said.

Lower Brule has benefited from a state economic development grant that helped match other grants to study methods of marketing products grown on the reservation. The tribe produces large quantities of edible beans, popcorn, cattle and buffalo. They hope to market these products under their own label and create value added opportunities for the reservation.

The tribe is also looking closely at establishing an ethanol plant, Jandreau said.

Michael LaPointe, state senator, member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and member of the Agricultural Committee said the committee had resources to help tribes get in touch with associations of growers.

What occurred at the state-tribal committee meeting was new, innovative and for some people, inspiring.

"These are new ideas. There is dialogue. It's good to see a chairmen come here and give to our committee some forward thought," said Rep. Tom Van Norman, D-Eagle Butte and attorney for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

"What we have done on the Cheyenne River is expand technology, we should work cooperatively and everyone would be better off," he said.

The state and the tribes each have opportunities and if they work together it could pull the tribes and the state together.

"What we have on Lower Brule is a microcosm of what exists on all reservations," Jandreau said.

There could be a full partnership between the tribes and the state to increase economic development and benefit all people. What resulted is a proposal for a meeting to gather the federal, tribal, state and other economic development people at all levels to discuss ideas that could benefit the entire state.

Should Lower Brule build the ethanol plant, it would give the non-Indian farmers an opportunity to sell their corn at fair prices in the local market. But tribes need a better means to access capital. Lower Brule boasts a stable government where Jandreau has served as chairman for more than 25 years and been in a leadership position for more than 30.

Doing business with various tribes has been labeled as a risk by some lending institutions and granting organizations because of the instability of government.

A major market for beef and other agricultural products is the federal government, however, the tribe would need 8A certification to move into that market.

The tribes can offer a huge land base with which to raise livestock and grow crops, they also have underdeveloped human resources with one-half of the people eligible for work not employable because of low skill levels.

The state legislature may be accused of being against tribal sovereignty, said Tally Plume, director of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Empowerment Zone.

But laws can be written agreement by agreement to provide legal protection, Van Norman said. Then the question is, can the state do a law acceptable to the tribes? Van Norman said it could be done.

"We find out there are 2,000 people who want to live at home, yet want to find jobs, but can't. What do we do?" Adelstein asked.

With a separation of power on the reservations, confidence in the tribal court systems and the establishment of Universal Commercial codes, more money will flow through the reservations and into the state.

The state and tribes have gaming compacts and sales, fuel and user fee tax agreements on the books. This proves there can be some cooperation for future and forward development, committee members agreed.

"Get the leaders to the table and it will be a big sell for the reservations. The bed for economic development hasn't been made yet. The state can encourage and make capital investments," Plume said.

The State-Tribal Relations Committee will continue the discussion of economic development in November on the Lower Brule Reservation. Other topics will be health and corrections issues.