Tradition shapes the future
Walk on the land of the Rosebud Reservation in the spring and the lush
grasses, spring prairie flowers and rolling landscape welcome any visitor.
Slowly turn around, absorb the horizon of blue sky and soft puffy clouds,
hear the breeze whisper through the valleys of trees and the grasses that
are green with life in early spring and you will know what Rosebud was like
150 years ago. Today there are cattle grazing, before it was buffalo. The
prairie dog holes pock the landscape as they did for centuries. Herds of
horses are part of the Rosebud, a tribute to the sacred animal that helped
the Lakota survive.
Many people live on the land their ancestors walked, hunted and prayed
upon. Today many people step out of their homes in the morning and view the
sacred hoop located on the horizon, smell the sweet air and pray for their
relatives much as their ancestors did for centuries.
That's the romanticized version.
The Rosebud Reservation is no less beautiful in reality, in fact it may be
one of the most peaceful and relaxing locations in the Great Plains. But
life can still be hard, and the future challenging. As people strive to
make a living they still teach their children the "old ways and the
language" and take care of their elders, who hold the stories and secrets
of the culture.
Rosebud Casino is located on the southern edge of the reservation just 20
feet from the Nebraska border on Highway 83. The reservation and others in
North and South Dakota are strategically located to be an integral part of
the North American Trade Corridor when it is completed from Canada to
If what visitors see is only a casino, they miss the real Rosebud.
The Rosebud tribal members mourn the loss of land that occurred 100 years
ago during the settlement by non-Indian homesteaders in the early part of
the 20th century. Land to the Lakota is sacred.
Today a casino, a hotel and a wind turbine are new additions to the
scenery. The wind turbine located behind the casino is the first commercial
wind turbine in Indian country. The tribal council recently approved a move
to create an entire wind turbine farm on the reservation that will generate
income while protecting the environment.
Technology may have escaped the Lakota in the past, but it may be the way
of the future in a place where unemployment sits at a steady 80 percent.
The population is getting younger and growing in numbers, therefore, tribal
leadership has to focus on jobs, education, housing and health.
Jobs are difficult. The reservation is isolated and transportation is
nearly impossible for large industries so tribal leaders must come up with
a plan that works. Local entrepreneurs and digital technology appears, at
the present, to be the solution.
Egan "Butch" Artichoker, executive director of the Rosebud Economic
Development Corporation, said it is better to grow businesses locally with
people that understand the culture. He said for companies to come on the
reservation with canned approaches to business and managers that do not
understand Lakota culture failure is a certainty.
Redco will apply for grants that will help individual entrepreneurs open
businesses. A proposed mall will act as an incubator to help new business
get established. Land has just been acquired for the facility, according to
Artichoker, and funding will follow.
The mall could contain a theater, established retail shops, post office and
a car dealership. New business owners will have the opportunity to start
and establish a business with assistance from Redco.
"We didn't have equity before to get the grants needed to develop
entrepreneurs," Artichoker said.
Classes will be held for people who want to start businesses will help with
business planning, understanding financial aspects of a business and other
elements required for a healthy business. Future entrepreneurs must
complete the course in order to be eligible for start-up loans. Redco's
goal is to have a revolving fund that could extend loans to new
entrepreneurs at a lower interest rate and bypass the banks.
There are no buildings on the reservation to refurbish that could
accommodate business enterprises like other reservations may have,
Artichoker said. Because of that, new construction is almost always the
The new mall will cost approximately $8 million to finish, a cost that
could go higher because of the global demand for steel. The original plan
was to build a steel-framed structure, but China is buying a lot of steel
and the price is rising. Artichoker said an alternate construction method
may have to be incorporated.
The tribe has also been working for four years to get a loan approved to
build a new travel plaza across from the casino. Artichoker said the tribal
president finally signed the resolution because a tribal guarantee is
needed and there is also the issue of a waiver of limited sovereign
immunity. Ground will be broken in the fall.
The plaza will have a 5,000 square-foot convenience store and in order to
create enough cash flow to pay for the facility, it will also contain 30
Class II gaming slot machines.
A 27 to 30 home housing unit is planned near the location, so the new plaza
will utilize 60 percent of its space for groceries.
Studies have shown that 3,200 vehicles pass the site and if 5 percent of
the traffic pulls over, Artichoker said it will be successful. Worth
mentioning is the fact that motor fuel is some 3 or 4 cents lower than in
Nebraska. The plaza will be state-of-the-art, he said.
Artichoker said the tribe could open the reservation to accommodate several
smaller Class II casinos to create more diverse gaming.
"The project is an ice breaker. I hope it will open the door for more
development for the tribe," Artichoker said.
Future plans for business and job development on the reservation rely
somewhat on the future of Redco. Currently there is not enough staff.
Artichoker said research people, instructors and personnel to do
feasibility studies are needed to serve the reservation properly-and more
An outside business that may develop into a potential job creator is
CINTAS. The company manufactures uniforms for flight attendants and casino
employees. Artichoker said the business has been patient with the tribe.
There is a community on the reservation that wants the business that could
create up to 80 jobs in four years. It requires a skill that a lot of
people could move into, Artichoker said.
Wireless communications have passed over the Rosebud Resrvation. The
reservation is considered a "dead zone." Western Wireless Company, which
works in conjunction with the FCC, has made plans to set up towers
throughout the reservation. The tribal council is now dealing with the
details of the ownership and/or lease of the towers.
Artichoker said a spin off could see stores set up on the reservation that
would sell wireless communication accessories. Staff from Sinte Gleska
University would be also be available to provided technical assistance for
Artichoker and Rosebud President Charles Colombe said section 17 of the
1934 Indian Reorganization Act allows tribes to operate non-taxable
businesses anywhere outside reservation boundaries. Artichoker said Redco
may be eligible under section 17 and attorneys are now looking into that
Water, valuable as it is in the parched region of the reservation, may add
jobs for the reservation. Bottled water, under the label Lakota Water, is
now sold in stores around the region. Presently it is a one-man operation.
Water is bottled in Nebraska then shipped to Rosebud for distribution. But
on the Rosebud, Artichoker said, tests have proven that a high quality
water source is available. What is needed is a new well, a bottling plant
and employees to bottle and distribute the product.
As it is now, the demand is far greater than the supply for the water. It
will cost $750,000 to $800,000 to construct a building and equip the plant.
Rosebud, like other reservations, has felt the sting of large companies
promising opportunities only to be disappointed when corporations expect
employees, some of whom are unskilled or have underdeveloped work habits
after years of unemployment, to perform at a high level of efficiency.
Sinte Gleska University, one of the most successful of the tribal colleges
adds an essential piece to the economic development puzzle. The university
is one of the first to be chartered in the list of 32 tribal colleges and
it has added graduate study programs with its associate of arts and
undergraduate degrees. Business and related curriculum take up a large
portion of the students' studies at Sinte Gleska. It is also a leader in
distance learning and plans for a National Indigenous University are
centered on Rosebud.