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Bryan Brewer, Lakota Nation Invitational founder and director and longtime educator, announced his candidacy for the office of Oglala Sioux Tribe president last month. PHOTO COURTESY/SDHSAA
Brewer steps into political arena
By Native Sun News Staff
PINE RIDGE — A longtime Pine Ridge educator has decided the time has come to bring new, honest and educated leadership to the government of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Bryan Brewer brings an impressive resume to the task. He decided to throw his hat in the ring for the office of president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe because he strongly believes that the tribal government can and must do a better job of serving the Lakota people residing on one of the largest Indian reservations in America.
Brewer was born in Pine Ridge on Feb. 4, 1947. He is the son of Vincent and Alvina Larvie Brewer. He graduated from Oglala Community School in 1965 and went on to earn a degree from Black Hills State University in 1976. A Navy veteran of the Vietnam War where he served as a Navy Seabee, he married Carla Redfish in 1969 and they had four children, Bryan, Brent, Kellee and Sky. Carla passed away a couple of years ago, and he said it left an empty hole in his heart.
Brewer was a teacher for more than 30 years. He taught history and cultural studies and also served as dean of students and as principal at Pine Ridge High School. He served five years on the South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors, and he was recently honored by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce for the outstanding job he has done as director of the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament, a tournament that has grown to be the largest Native American high school basketball tourney in the United States while under his leadership. Although now retired from teaching, he serves on the Pine Ridge and Shannon County school boards.
Native Sun News visited with Brewer last week and had some strong questions to ask him.
Native Sun News: The biggest problem on Pine Ridge is unemployment. What would you do to bring jobs to the reservation?
Brewer: I believe unemployment, shortage of housing, poor physical and mental health, lawlessness and education, etc., are all major issues that are interconnected and intertwined, making them all equally important to work on and to do so simultaneously and immediately. These issues are not new to our people, we have struggled with these issues since our ancestors had their way of life, land and freedom taken from them and then (were) incarcerated onto reservations. Colonialism has hurt the Oglala Lakota Nation and our people suffered many atrocities, and we have had many adversities to overcome. But these painful experiences have made our people stronger. Often we are looked upon as a broken and poverty-stricken people; yes, we have many issues, but we have many beautiful qualities also – always laughing, generosity, kindness, traditional and spiritual ways, and a great concern for our youth. But more than ever we need to put our differences aside to come and stand together to build our communities and fix the many broken aspects of our policies and procedures, and do so by expecting strong policymaking by our leadership.
We are experiencing 89 percent unemployment, and we have former leaders who predominantly have not had experience in reducing or addressing this high rate. My administration will hire key people to address our employment needs and requirements. We will have homegrown professionals working to develop and administer the forward movement of job creation and will strongly address every aspect of business development and economic development. Our local Oglala Lakota College has graduated 969 folks since 2006, and all of the alumni since the 1970s are the people that I will be looking toward.
The tribe currently has a committee that hosts the title of Economic and Business Development, but most of the committee members have inadequate knowledge of actually creating jobs and developing the economy. My administration will provide the much-needed direction to the committees and to the various organizations located throughout the reservation to assist them with needs such as setting up and establishing stores, allowing the ease of access to land for business purposes, (and) breaking down the existing barriers where businesses have difficult times getting established. My administration will get to work immediately in retaining some of the lost millions of dollars to go to other economies and will start building our economy right here at home. This will serve to create the much-needed jobs that we lack.
The federal government has a program that connects industry and big businesses with reservations where the potential exists to establish warehouses, factories and other large-scale manufacturing services. My staff will look at those possibilities and others that include setting up a visible and strong Small Business Administration right here at home. Looking at veterans to assist them with establishing businesses and to simply hit the ground running to get the economy rolling and to create jobs.
Native Sun News: Another major problem is housing. What would you do to alleviate the housing shortage?
Brewer: Our local housing authority can be the most lucrative organization on this reservation simply because it is technically a real estate organization. My administration will take a strong, hard look at how we could make the housing program function a little more efficiently. We have a recently-established lumber supply business that is located almost directly across from the housing authority in Pine Ridge. We could work together to get a reduced cost of supplies and at the same time give more business to the lumber store. This is a small step, but it would allow for a saving to be achieved where it could be put into a fund to build more homes.
I want to get to a point where we will no longer have to depend on the federal government for funds to build homes but still keep them on the hook. My administration will be able to generate our own tribal money for this purpose. In building our economy, and as stated previously, everything is intertwined. A strong economy will provide for a much larger tax base, which in turn could yield more funds for items like public safety, social services and housing development. If elected to the position of tribal president, my administration will be looking into - and in fact has already identified – other avenues that would put hundreds of homes on our reservation in a very short period of time. Those details are currently being worked out.
Native Sun News: The Prairie Wind Casino needs to increase the revenues from gambling. Many Oglala thought it was a bad idea to build a casino at Martin. The casino most have been pushing for is the one that would bring the tribe the most income, and that would be a casino at Interior. Do you see that ever happening?
Brewer: When we look back at the decisions to build both the Prairie Wind and Martin casinos where they are, we can say those were learning experiences. And besides, hindsight is always 20/20. We need to work toward supporting their success, but also start looking toward economic development and move away for now in building more casinos. We, as a tribe, are seriously in debt, and receivership debt is a serious concern for the people of Oglala Lakota Nation. In receivership, the federal government will take over the management affairs of the tribe for a designated period of time and in an effort to get the tribe back on its feet again. But we want to avoid this scenario because in recent years we are finding out that the government has not done a very good job at managing their own affairs. The Cobell settlement is one example of the government’s longtime mismanagement and the Rama settlement is another.
Our existing casinos must be given a fighting chance at recovering from the huge debt that they are in. The tribe must quit taking money from them and let them focus on functioning as a business and allow the casino manager and staff to determine when they can release money to the tribe rather than the tribe forcefully taking money from the casino. The split of 70 percent of the net profits to the tribe and only allowing the casino to retain 30 percent is wrong on too many economic levels. Granted, the tribe is in big-time financial trouble with over $70 million of debt, we still have to look at alternative ways to assist rather than tear down our existing tribally-oriented businesses. We also have to take a look at the qualifications of the Gaming Commission to ensure that qualified individuals are making qualified decisions for our gaming industry. At some point in the future, there may be room to build tribal casinos at or near Interior and close to the Interstate 90 and possibly another at the scenic overlook on Red Shirt Table, but for now, we have to take control of our massive debt and get rid of it.
Native Sun News: A visitor center and a museum at Wounded Knee would bring many tourism dollars to the reservation economy. Sen. Tim Johnson says he could raise the money to build it through the National Park Service. Would you recommend this for economic development?
Brewer: Economic development is important through concerted actions of elected policymakers. It should be their priority to increase the standard of living and economic health of the Oglala. Economic development is necessary in multiple areas, including development of human capital, critical infrastructure, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, health, safety, literacy and other initiatives. The scope of economic development includes the process and policies by which our nation can improve the economics and political and social well-being of our people.
A visitors center and a museum at Wounded Knee would bring many tourism dollars to the reservation economy, and many Oglala people have raised this venture many times over the years. And, yes, raising the money to build it will be difficult for us without the assistance of Senator Johnson, but I feel these are the types of economic development ventures our communities should be in charge of with proper restrictions and oversight, as opposed to using the National Park Service. This is increasingly a very touchy subject, and my immediate recommendation is to get the viewpoint of the folks of our reservation and of the Standing Rock Reservation, especially. I would like to meet with the community members of Wounded Knee itself. I want to work with them but tread lightly and give them as much assistance as possible to enable them to make their own decisions or to identify potential problems with tourism that they may be concerned with and try to eliminate those barriers. We all know that Wounded Knee could very easily become a nationally recognized tribal memorial which could bring multi-millions of dollars in the form of tourism. But if it is going to be done, then it must be done with the advice and approval of the tribal members.
Native Sun News: There will be a push to drill for oil and natural gas in the next few years. What would be your approach to doing this?
Brewer: It is true that there will be a push to drill for oil and natural gas in the next few years, and my approach to doing this is with the will of the Oglala Lakota people. I am aware of the oil and gas deposits in the southwestern portion of our reservation. I am also aware that oil leases have been sold to several locations just outside our west and northern reservation boundaries. Further, with the new fracking technology, drillers can drill one and a half to two miles underground and sideways to access oil beneath and into our tribal lands. This is a major concern, and our Lakota people have to be able to make an informed decision on its potential and fallbacks. Public involvement hearings are a key to getting the word out and receiving input from the Lakota people. It would be their decision to allow drilling on tribal lands. Our ultimate goal will be to protect our natural resources, and if drilling is allowed by the Lakota people, then items such as infrastructure, housing, business, supplies, water quality, the environment and roads would all have to be addressed. My administration is putting together a plan to address the oil and gas issue and will be prepared for it if and when it becomes a reality.