The Obama administration has designated Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as a one of its Promise Zone communities. The initiative is in place to help lift communities across the country out of poverty by partnering with the federal government to increase economic activity, job growth and improve educational opportunities.
"This is not something that came from the federal government to the Oglala Lakota people,” Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, toldABC News affiliate KSFY. “We created this. We created this movement on Pine Ridge to do this work, and we've been doing it. We've been building roads. We've been building houses. We've been trying to look at how to improve education. So it's built upon momentum, and I think in the world of changing the world, momentum is everything."
At least half of the people on Pine Ridge are in poverty, and 21 percent face unemployment, but its residents designed a plan that has leveraged more than $15 million dollars of new investments in the community to end the cycle of poverty. The Oglala Sioux Tribe partnered with the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation to develop the plan, which was selected after the tribe submitted an application explaining how the Promise Zone designation would strengthen its efforts toward revitalization.
"We're not talking about putting a dent in poverty; we're going to end poverty on Pine Ridge,” Tilsen told the new station. “We're going to end the housing problem on Pine Ridge, and it's not going to be just because of the Promise Zone. The Promise Zone is just part of that strategy."
Last year, President Obama designated the Choctaw Nation as one of its Promise Zones. So far, the Nation has made several improvements, including adding nineteen Head Start classrooms in thirteen of its centers, as well as receiving assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services, assisting 310 children and their families.
"Families and children in rural and tribal communities are full of potential to compete and succeed in the 21st Century,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “When we invest our resources and establish long-lasting public-private alliances to strengthen educational opportunities, deliver health care, build infrastructure and create jobs, we are investing in our country's future."