Tag Archives: reservation

A look inside America’s poorest county

So the story is pretty interesting, but head over to the comments and you’ll be AMAZED to see all the classist, racist commentary – over 4000 comments.  People don’t want to admit that poverty is a race, ethnicity, and gender issue as well…
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Where nothing is harder to find than a job: A look inside the poorest county in America – AP

Nomaan Merchant, Associated Press, On Sunday February 13, 2011, 8:54 pm EST

ZIEBACH COUNTY, S.D. (AP) — In the barren grasslands of Ziebach County, there’s almost nothing harder to find in winter than a job. This is America’s poorest county, where more than 60 percent of people live at or below the poverty line.

At a time when the weak economy is squeezing communities across the nation, recently released census figures show that nowhere are the numbers as bad as here — a county with 2,500 residents, most of them Cheyenne River Sioux Indians living on a reservation.

In the coldest months of the year, when seasonal construction work disappears and the South Dakota prairie freezes, unemployment among the Sioux can hit 90 percent.

Poverty has loomed over this land for generations. Repeated attempts to create jobs have run into stubborn obstacles: the isolated location, the area’s crumbling infrastructure, a poorly trained population and a tribe that struggles to work with businesses or attract investors.

Now the tribe — joined by a few entrepreneurs, a development group and a nonprofit — is renewing efforts to create jobs and encourage a downtrodden population to start its own businesses.

“Many, many people make these grand generalizations about our communities and poverty and ‘Why don’t people just do something, and how come they can’t?'” said Eileen Briggs, executive director of Tribal Ventures, a development group started by the tribe. “It’s much more complicated than that.”

The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, created in 1889, consists almost entirely of agricultural land in Ziebach and neighboring Dewey County. It has no casino and no oil reserves or available natural resources.

Most towns in Ziebach County are just clusters of homes between cattle ranches. Families live in dilapidated houses or run-down trailers. Multicolored patches of siding show where repairs were made as cheaply as possible.

Families fortunate enough to have leases to tribal land can make money by raising cattle. Opportunities are scarce for almost everyone else.

The few people who have jobs usually have to drive up to 80 miles to tribal headquarters. The nearest major population centers are Rapid City and Bismarck, each a trip of 150 miles or more.

Basic services can be vulnerable. The tribe’s primary health clinic doesn’t have a CT scanner or a maternity ward. An ice storm last year knocked out power and water in places for weeks. And in winter, the gravel roads that connect much of the reservation can become impassable with snow and ice.

Nearly six decades after the reservation was created, the federal government began building a dam on the Missouri River, but the project caused flooding that washed away more than 100,000 acres of Indian land. After the flooding, the small town of Eagle Butte became home to the tribal headquarters and the center of the reservation’s economy.

“There are things that have happened to us over many, many generations that you just can’t fix in three or four years,” said Kevin Keckler, the tribe’s chairman. “We were put here by the government, and we had a little piece of land and basically told to succeed here.”

But prosperity never came. The county has been at or near the top of the poverty rankings for at least a decade. In 2009, the census defined poverty as a single person making less than $11,000 a year or a family of four making less than $22,000 a year.

Eagle Butte has few businesses and the handful that do exist struggle to stay afloat. The town has just one major grocery store, the Lakota Thrifty Mart, which is owned by the tribe. There’s also a Dairy Queen, a Taco John’s and a handful of small cafes. There’s no bowling alley, no movie theatre.

But a few entrepreneurs are trying to break the cycle of failure, with mixed results.

Stephanie Davidson and her husband, Gerald, started a plumbing-and-heating business in 2000 with a single pickup truck. Eventually, D&D Plumbing started to grow, and they hired several employees.

But the reservation economy, which was never strong, has been hit hard by the economic slump. Many customers don’t have the money to pay for work upfront, and the Davidsons have struggled to get contracts in new construction, such as a nearly $85 million federal hospital being built to replace the aging clinic.

They’ve laid off employees and filled empty space in their building by adding a bait shop and then a deli. Nothing has worked.

“People think you’re a pillar of the community because you have a business, and that part of it is good,” Stephanie Davidson said. “We don’t feel that way right now because we’re having such a tough time.”

Nicky White Eyes, who owns a flower shop on Main Street, says there are days when she doesn’t sell a single flower. Most of her business comes from families who get help from the tribe to buy flowers for a relative’s funeral.

“We’re getting by with nothing extra,” said White Eyes, who said she hasn’t taken any salary in the months since she quit another job to run the shop full-time. “But no, I have too much heart in it to let it go quite yet.”

The nonprofit Four Bands Community Fund has invested in both businesses and people in Eagle Butte. The group teaches residents basic financial skills — how to open a checking account, how to save money on a budget and how to develop credit.

“You have the most complicated little world here,” said Tanya Fiddler, Four Bands’ executive director.

Without a viable private sector, federal money permeates every part of life here. The federal government pays for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service, three of the reservation’s largest employers. Businesses rely on the federal money that comes into the reservation.

Federal stimulus dollars are paying for the new hospital, which will create about 150 permanent jobs when it opens this year. Other federal contracts bring sporadic jobs, too.

One tribal success story is Lakota Technologies, which has attracted call-center and data-processing work and trained hundreds of young people since it started more than a decade ago. The company now employs a handful of tribal members on a State Department sub-contract, even though most of its cubicles remain empty.

But other businesses owned by the tribe have run into trouble. Last year, a buffalo-meat processing company was sued by a rancher in federal court. The lawsuit accused the company, Pte Hca Ka Inc., of not delivering on contracts. A federal judge ruled against Pte Hca Ka for $1.1 million when it did not respond to the lawsuit.

Keckler, the newly elected tribal chairman and a former business owner, has pledged to try to fix the problems. He said previous officials have rejected overtures from outside investors because they feared the loss of tribal control or the risk of losing their positions.

“It’s difficult for us to get people to come here and have faith in us as a government,” he said. “We just had a new election, and there was discussion about, ‘Oh, people want to give away things.’ Those are kind of the issues that we have.”

Still, there are small reasons to hope.

Later this year, the tribe will start to receive payments from a $290 million settlement with Congress related to the farmland that was lost to the Missouri River flooding. The tribe will receive annual interest on the settlement money starting this fall. This year’s payment could be as much as $75 million, according to one tribal estimate. A Department of Treasury spokeswoman says the final amount hasn’t been determined yet.

That money can be used for infrastructure improvements, economic development and education.

Raymond Uses The Knife, a rancher and tribal councilman, wants the reservation to be “accessible for other companies to come in and invest their money right here.”

“We have to attract business. Regardless of how much money we have, we can’t set up our own businesses,” he said. “We also have to realize that we’re all not experts.”

Meanwhile, groups like Tribal Ventures and Four Bands continue to look for ways to bring in jobs and help those who are fighting the decades-old obstacles here.

“You can have all the heart you want, but you have to have actual cash and resources,” said Briggs, of Tribal Ventures. “All those things play a part in our being able to basically use our greatest asset, which is our people.”

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Missing and Murdered Native Women

Everyone loves Canada, eh?  And no one can give you any specific details about Canada other than: two Olympics were held there, in Quebec they speak French, and, that it’s known for ice wine, ice hockey, and syrup.  *Update: Michael Moore isn’t from Canada.  He’s from Flint.*

But what about their issues?  Assuredly Canada deals with similar problems of race, class, gender, etc, but you never hear about Canada, so it must be fantastic there.  Right?

I recently learned from this Rabble news article posted on Racialicious that Canada has a high rate of missing and murdered native women, totaling nearly 600 women over the past 25 years, and half since the year 2000.  And more than half of these murders remain unsolved.  WTF?

In March, the Canadian Minister of Justice budgeted $10 million over two years to address the issue, yet they haven’t decided on how the money will be spent.  Many justice organizations, including Amnesty International and Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), suggest that the $10 million is not enough to support Canadian native women and solve “the problem.”  Mainly because the problem’s too damn big.

Photographs of missing or murdered women from British Columbia are displayed during a Sisters in Spirit vigil to honour the lives of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday October 4, 2009. Vigils were held in dozens of communities across Canada to highlight the issue of murdered Aboriginal women and girls. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

So what’s the problem?

Andre Picard from The Global and Mail states that these kidnappings and deaths are a result of sexual violence, domestic abuse, and race-based violence:

The women, most under the age of 30, are overwhelmingly victims of sexual violence. They are being preyed upon systematically by sexual sadists, killers and probably more than one serial killer.  How can this not be considered a national priority for police, justice and public-health officials?

Sadly, when a native woman is murdered or vanishes under suspicious circumstances, it does not mobilize police action nor generate near as much media attention as similar cases involving non-native women: They were drunk. They were sex workers. They came from unstable family backgrounds. They were runaways. They were party girls. An endless litany of excuses for inaction is trotted out with shocking regularity.

But it is precisely these circumstances – alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse, the sequelae of residential schools, poverty, survival sex, etc. – that placed them at much higher risk.

NWAC Sisters’ in Spirit director Kate Rexe said if the money is spent wisely with commitment from all levels of government and NGOs, there is an opportunity to change the system and how it responds to violence and the disappearance of Aboriginal women and girls.

NWAC recommends a comprehensive action plan based on four key areas of priorities: Increasing access to justice, reducing violence against Aboriginal women and girls, increasing economic security, and reducing the impact of children in care (welfare),” Rexe said.

"There is evidence that a serial killer may also be at work in Manitoba, and a single man may also be responsible for the carnage along British Columbia's infamous Highway of Tears . (Highway 16 - The Yellowhead Highway, which stretches 750 kilometres from Prince George to Prince Rupert has been the site of nine murders and disappearances since 1990, all but one of the victims young aboriginal women.) But the reality is that the Highway of Tears stretches from sea-to-sea-to-sea in this country: Aboriginal women have been murdered or disappeared by the score in every single province and territory in Canada," says Picard. Photo by Vancouver Sun Files

Not to pick on Canada – the United States has a serious problem with these same issues.  Here are some stats about the situation in America:

According to Amnesty International, one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime – Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than a non-native woman.

In 2007, Amnesty International published its findings in the study “Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA.”

That same year, NPR did a two-part series on the subject: “Rape Cases On Indian Lands Go Uninvestigated” and “Legal Hurdles Stall Rape Cases on Native Lands.”

The NPR series chronicled horrific stories either ignored by law enforcement or unreported because they have become commonplace.  The investigation also revealed a system underfunded and often broken: a tribal health center inadequately staffed and without rape kits to collect DNA from victims; tribal leaders and Native police unable to prosecute non-native perpetrators; and a patchwork of confusing jurisdictions in which federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement intersect and clash with each other.

Underlying the issue is a terrible fact that makes justice all but impossible: 80% of rapes involve non-native perpetrators, and tribal authorities are powerless in these situations because only federal prosecutors can prosecute crimes on tribal lands.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) oversees law enforcement on the reservations, and many police departments are woefully understaffed; one reservation the size of Connecticut has only 5 officers to cover the entire area. One BIA officer told NPR he was “too overwhelmed and overworked to keep up with the number of calls for rape, sexual assault and child abuse” that came in each week.

The Current TV documentary series Vanguard investigated this issue in their segment, “Rape on the Reservation.”  Correspondent Mariana van Zeller visits the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, where 19-year-old Marquita was raped, beaten, and murdered in an abandoned house.  Zeller looks into Marquita’s murder along with other harrowing stories of rape and abuse, and exposes the difficulties women face in their attempts to seek justice.

So what can you do?

Learn. Act. Share.  But most importantly, we need to work to end racism and sexism in our everyday lives.

How to act:

http://www.nwac.ca/act-now

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=18634748040

http://www.now.org/nnt/spring-2001/nativeamerican.html

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