While the physical landscape is much the same, the boundaries of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in north central South Dakota separate Indian Country from the rest of the state. Ron Brownotter, one of our classmates and a member of the Standing Rock tribe, worked with the tribal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the staff at Sitting Bull College to share with us information about agriculture and economic development in that area of the state. Ron is on the tribal council and also has a buffalo ranch near Bullhead.
Stacey LaCompte, executive director, shared with us the reason for the facility. It is to enhance understanding and knowledge of Indian History, to provide interpretation of the encounters between Lewis and Clark and the Sioux Nation, to house a Sioux Nation Tribal Supreme Court, to house a Native American economic development center and to house a National Native American Mediation Training Center. It is a sacred site. The unique effort between people and their institutions, looks to build a bridge that joins the historical and cultural past of the Sioux Nation to the challenges of the new century.
According to the one of the handouts, the building was championed by Sen. Tom Daschle to accomplish something that was unprecedented: to lure outside investment to impoverished Indian reservations across the region by creating a court system where outsiders could recoup losses if a business deal went bad. There was lots of support for the project but, since Daschle was defeated, the federal funds for the project have dried up. $18 million has been spent for the project but in 2008, the House gave Wakpa Sica $150,000. Plans have now been scaled back. The Reconciliation Project does not receive any Tribal or State funding. Federal funds have been channeled to meet demands of Indian tribes, which often run toward more basic needs like emergency rooms, schools and roads.
LaCompte is committed to continuing the work as they seek grants. The Bush Foundation has been helpful to continue the unique program to build bridges among the 11 tribes.
While at the center, South Dakota Secretary of Tribal Relations J.R. LaPlante shared some of his thoughts about the position he serves. His position was created under Gov. Daugaard this year.
JR shared history of the tribe. He also addressed that agriculture and tourism are the two biggest industries in South Dakota. But, he said, people don’t think of going to an Indian reservation either to shop, which is tourism, or for farming. Most of the land is more suited to ranching and not planting crops. “If people go to a reservation, it’s generally a ‘pass-through’ and not for shopping,” he said. “That’s something we need to work on changing. Tourism and agriculture can work for our future.”
What does this have to do with agriculture? Part of it comes from understanding why certain things happen in the state. More of what we learned will be continued next week.