Crow Creek Sioux Tribe's chairman and casino are boycotting suppliers
of goods and services in Chamberlain, South Dakota, following the
refusal of the local high school to allow a Sioux honor song at
the recent graduation ceremonies. See "Crow
Creek Sioux Boycott Border-town Businesses Over Banned Honor Song,"
for more on how the embargo got underway. The boycott has thrown
a spotlight on the economic relationship of South Dakota tribes,
their border towns and the state as a whole.
South Dakota is fourth in the nation for dependence on Washington
for its state budget, with federal dollars paying the tab for nearly
half of everything from health care to law enforcement. The state
is eighth in the nation for receipt of farm subsidies. South Dakota
is a place where individuals and government dependa loton
other people's money. That includes Indian money.
We saw in the first article in this series that the dearth of
businesses on many reservations means residents looking for anything
from groceries to home repair spend their money in border towns.
Nick Tilson, of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation,
in Sharps Corner, South Dakota, calls the border townreservation
symbiosis "a parasite-host" relationship.
Shopping is just the beginning. In his book The Rights of Indians
and Tribes, attorney Steven Pevar cites several academic research
papers on tribes' shares of their states' economies. One study found
that from 1979 to 2002 Wyoming received $283 million more in taxes
from one Indian nation's mineral production than it returned in
services and other funding. In another paper Pevar describes, economist
Steven Peterson determined in 2009 that five Idaho tribes together
contributed nearly $1 billion in economic activity to the state,
while producing nearly $25 million in state and local taxes.
Dr. Malia Villegas, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and policy research center
director of the National Congress of American Indians, noted additional
studies revealing that tribes and tribal entities are economic engines
in California, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington, among others.
Gaming at casinos, such as the Crow Creek's Lode Star Casino
and many others, is the source of much tribal money. The National
Indian Gaming Association has published nationwide figures for 2009:
$26 billion in gross revenues; $3.2 billion for associated expenditures
such as entertainment and lodging; $9.4 billion in federal taxes
and other payments; and $2.4 billion for state taxes and other payments.
Indian gaming's job creation was substantial628,000 jobs for
American Indians and others, said NIGA.
In Connecticut, according to Pevar, a 2005 study calculated
that tribal casinos created 65,000 jobs and contributed $1 billion
to the state budget, while rescuing the deteriorating economy of
the southeastern portion of the state.
Casinos are not the only reservation employers; non-Indians
as well as Indians work at additional enterprises, tribal departments,
nonprofits and schools. The many powwows and other Native events
generate even more economic activity. The United Tribes Technical
College in Bismarck, North Dakota, reckoned in 2011 that its annual
powwow had a direct contribution to the local economy of $4.7 million
(excluding taxes and other associated impacts). Also that year,
Alaska television station KTVA reported that the Alaska Federation
of Natives meeting was Anchorage's biggest convention, bringing
in $7.2 million in spending on hotels and more, according to the
city's convention and visitor's bureau.
We must not forget leasing, said Native American Rights Fund
attorney Brett Lee Shelton, who is Oglala Lakota. He noted that
farmers, ranchers, mining operations, oil companies and many more
individuals and businesses lease Indian landbenefitting from
access to tribal resources, as well as from the bargain-basement
prices the Bureau of Indian Affairs sometimes charges.
The United States has a long history of valuing Indian resources
at below-market rates when it leases or sells those resources to
outsiders, according to Shelton. "This is a huge drain on Indian
economies and is essentially a taking of resources that hadn't yet
been taken in the treaty-making process. If you wanted to design
a system to keep Indian landowners poor, you would use exactly this
sort of trick."
In 2011, Indian owners of 42,000 acres of allotments on the
Fort Berthold Reservation, in North Dakota's Bakken oil-producing
region, sued the U.S. government. The allottees alleged that the
Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is responsible for leasing Indian
land in the "best interests" of its owners, approved leases for
as little as $110 per acre. The suit charges that the leases were
then "flipped" for as much as $10,000 per acre. The lawsuit is still
before the courts. (Related
story: Beckoning the Bakken: Will the oil Boom Reach Montana's Impoverished
Fort Peck Tribes?)
At Crow Creek, Sazue and a forward-thinking tribal council have
their eyes on a better economic future for their people. Recently,
the group has announced an innovative home-construction program
that trains youngsters in building trades while producing homes
for tribal members, the development of a business incubator, participation
in a wind power deal announced at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative
America, and farmers markets and healthy food initiatives throughout
Sazue continues to pursue the idea of an on-reservation bank.
He would not provide further details about the talks involved, other
than to say a local bank would provide enduring benefits. "With
a bank, we would keep as much of our economy here as possible,"
he said. "It would be very good for us."