KYLE, S.D. - As you drive into Kyle, at the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the first things you will notice is new construction. The building is nothing out of the ordinary at first glance, but there, high on a hill it overlooks the town itself.
It's a fitting location, for you see it's more than a building. It's more than a business. It represents a dream.
Lakota Express a telemarketing business, is operated by a staff spearheaded by Karlene Hunter, founder and president. The successful business is ready to expand, hence the new building.
Lakota Express has 18 employees and the expansion will allow for an additional 130 employees. And there lies the real significance of the building.
"We started this business on a dream. While attending and teaching at Oglala Lakota College, I got to thinking. It's nice to be able to teach others about what we, (Lakota Indians) need to do to improve our conditions and gain self-sufficiency. It's nice to teach, but there was something missing - a fine line from teaching to doing," Hunter said.
"The time had come to put some of my words into action and I couldn't think of a valid reason why that time could not be right then. So I thought of the concept of Lakota Express."
It concentrates on promoting other businesses and non-profit organizations.
"We are an experienced, full-service direct mail and telemarketing company with a proven track record. We started six years ago on that dream I mentioned earlier," Hunter continued.
"We provide 24-hour, quality services, daily reporting, weekly analysis of campaigns and a fully detailed year-end report of activities. We view ourselves as partners with each organization to provide individualized service."
Some of its clients are KILI radio at Pine Ridge, "Indigenous," a leading and fast-moving-to-the-top of the charts blues group of Native Americans and "Honor The Earth." Also included on the client list is the very college that gave Hunter the knowledge to branch out by herself.
Hunter emphasized the organization is not just a business. "We have a mission." That mission is to operate a profitable business that:
* Creates economic opportunities for the Lakota Nation.
* Participates in social, educational and political issues that empower the people and protect the earth.
"We deliver those services to non-profit organizations, institutions, businesses and political campaigns for fundraising, sales, public education and issue support," Hunter says.
Lakota Express does all that, but its real significance is much deeper. Pine Ridge suffers from an unemployment rate of nearly 84 percent. When an individual gets a job on the reservation, it is important because it builds self-esteem for that person but more importantly it adds to the reservation's income, Hunter notes. It's one tiny step in building sovereignty for the Lakota as a nation.
"The building that sits on top of the hill will in time, in a short time, (within the next year), employ 150 new people. We will create 150 new positions for dedicated, hard-working Lakotas. We will, with no equal, be the largest, privately owned business on the reservation," Hunter says with pride.
"I really need to mention here though that none of this could be possible if it wasn't for Lance Morgan of Ho-Chunk Inc. of Winnebago, Neb.
"Ho-Chunk is a picture of a business that is a complete success. They are into everything and without them we couldn't have gotten off on such solid ground. Lance is still our adviser and, with his help, we will see our dream come true," Hunter said.
Some people dream in black and white and their dreams come true in time. Karlene dreams in color and her dreams are a reality - Lakota Express.