Pine Ridge Chamber message is growth

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Hosts World Bank president

KYLE, S.D. - The first woman to lead the Oglala Nation said she wants to
see a $10 million pool established to assist new and future entrepreneurs
on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Oglala President Cecelia Fire Thunder said it was doable and asked a crowd
of more than 300 people to pledge help in that goal - and they did.

They were gathered to participate in the 5th annual meeting and banquet of
the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce on April 2, which drew attendees from
surrounding communities and Rapid City to the small town of Kyle in the
heart of the reservation.

Fire Thunder told business owners from Rapid City to drive carefully on the
way home because it is a very dangerous road - a road that she said "is the
one used by your customers every day."

She challenged business owners from outside the reservation to invest in
Pine Ridge businesses so that economic growth could happen throughout the
region. She said the road is two-way.

The crowd was treated to a star-studded guest list that included the
president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn; Rebecca Adamson, president
of the First Nations Institute; Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. and Fire Thunder.
This was the largest annual meeting held by the only Chamber of Commerce
located on an American Indian reservation.

Wolfensohn, who began his day touring Pine Ridge Reservation, wanted to see
if there was a link between what the reservation faced and what other
indigenous people experienced.

"I was amazed during the course of the day to find similarities between the
issues that face the American Indian and the indigenous people throughout
the world," he remarked.

The World Bank will soon issue a policy that outlines how it will deal with
indigenous people.

"We will start with full respect of the dignity, the human rights, the
economies of cultures of indigenous peoples," Wolfensohn said.

He said in order to be successful, the World Bank and others must take
everything into account, including the identities and histories of the
cultures.

"I am stunned when I traveled today: that the issues I face overseas ...
issues I thought were for foreigners, are right here. And it stuns me that
our nation, the United States, has not yet come to terms in dealing with
problems - problems which are laid out by law in our own country,"
Wolfensohn said.

He said he looked forward to seeing indigenous people's entrepreneurial
capacities and desire to move ahead.

In a land that to most people is destined to inevitable poverty and
joblessness, speaker after speaker never let on that the future would be
the same - but changes won't come easy or without sacrifice.

"If we work together we can end poverty in the next 10 years. The schools
represent hope as the students prepare for the future," Fire Thunder said.

Fire Thunder didn't dwell on estimates of 80 percent unemployment on Pine
Ridge, instead delivering a message of hope and change. "We can make it
happen. Lakota people are on the move."

Small-business growth on Pine Ridge has been slow but growing. Roadblocks
such as financing, infrastructure and a limited work force prevent many
businesses from opening or succeeding.

"It is time to end economic apartheid," Fire Thunder said.

Jesse Claussen, chamber president and owner of a construction business,
said the current federal welfare-to-work and other programs are stifling
the work force. His solution was for the federal government to subsidize
businesses so they can offer a living wage to workers while training them.

Fire Thunder said her goal was to end dependence on the federal government
and stop the mentality of charity that pervades the reservation. To that
end, she said she wanted to see $10 million come to the reservation for
investment in the Lakota Fund, an organization that loans money and trains
would-be business owners.

The meeting was the first time since taking office that Fire Thunder has
devoted so much time to economic development. She has been virtually silent
on the subject, saying only that many past plans had not been implemented
and she wanted to look at them before moving forward.

Johnson said the World Bank president's trip to Pine Ridge bodes well for
the possibility of successful economic growth: "It says a great deal about
Pine Ridge." He admitted that many challenges were ahead, but he sensed a
new energy on the reservation.

"All South Dakota will gain when Native Americans have good jobs," he said.

Johnson also scolded the state for presenting an adversarial position and
asked the state government to set that aside and move "together hand in
hand."