Skip to main content

Panelists: Master plans and zoning are critical for business

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The success and growth of business, whether private or tribally owned, on any reservation is directly related to the infrastructure.

Roads, water, sewer, power and now Internet accessibility play a major role in whether small or larger business can develop and eventually succeed.

On the Pine Ridge Reservation, a new motel was not capable of connecting to a wastewater system or a water system, so it had to create its own. Because of Lakota Express, a marketing business on the Pine Ridge Reservation, high-speed phone lines and Internet are available.

High technology today is the key to success for most businesses that are located in remote and isolated regions, including many in the Great Plains.

At Sinte Gleska University, on the Rosebud Reservation in south-central South Dakota, broadband technology connects the university to Canada, Minnesota, California and now with some communications with China.

''The infrastructure is an issue,'' said Shawn Bourdeaux, director of development for SGU.

What is missing on many reservations is planning for future growth by designating regions and areas specific for retail, industry or residential development that would allow for construction of the proper of infrastructure needed for each. The dreaded ''Z-word,'' zoning, which is rejected in many Great Plains states, is also potentially needed on reservations, according to many panelists at the recent 9th Great Plains Regional/Tribal Economic Summit.

In other words: create a comprehensive master plan.

''Think far enough ahead; make sure there is water and sewer available,'' said Tammy Eagle Bull, president of Encompass Architects PC.

Allotted lands, tribal trust land and other forms of land ownership create difficulty in planning for infrastructure and for the creation of a master plan, some summit attendees said.

''Designate land for special use and then develop the infrastructure. Reservations are not laid out properly,'' Eagle Bull said.

Public meetings on land-use disputes could solve some problems when creating a master plan, and those disputes should not stop the development of the master plan, panelists agreed.

''The United States owes us a Marshall Plan; they destroyed our economies,'' said Harvey White Woman, Oglala Lakota.

''Our ancestors were successful entrepreneurs,'' he continued.

Questions arise when it takes an entrepreneur up to three months to open for business in off-reservation locations, when on a reservation it might take more than a year.

''What is the step-by-step process that I would have to go through to put a building up?'' White Woman said.

A master plan, which many tribes have, would provide the answer, Eagle Bull said.

''Get land designated; get tribal leadership thinking about that,'' she said.

Many utility companies are located off-reservation and it would be advisable to work out a relationship with them, panelists said. The use of Community Development Fund organizations, which are now located on various reservations, was also advised.

The Great Plains has a large amount of trust land and populations are isolated; the use of technology is needed to enhance communication.

''With that technology, we can communicate daily for business development,'' said Tex Hall, executive director for Intertribal Economic Alliance. That organization has connected many reservations and business organizations to leverage a negotiating position with outside business ventures.

Hall spoke of the resolution passed by the National Indian Gaming Association to buy at least 15 percent American Indian, which he said, would amount to $2.5 billion.

''Are we ready for that?'' he asked.

''There are no real systems to tie it all together,'' Hall continued.

Collaboration between all tribes was suggested by Bordeaux, but what were missing from the summit were tribal elected officials, and there were only two bankers who identified themselves.

''If we all got together and did a project, how strong it would be? We can develop economies together,'' Bordeaux said.

Families in the Great Plains rely mostly on agriculture as an economic base, but there are problems with leasing and land use.

''We are in the process of finding solutions to problems and technology is the answer,'' Hall said. ''Data would show that we are not taking one hundred percent advantage of our resources. We need to connect those resources.''