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Radio: Economic development at Pine Ridge

"Much of the economy of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation just doesn't make sense. One particular statistic irritates chamber of commerce head Ivan Sorbel.

Sorbel: "It's estimated that $80 million come onto the reservation in any given year and approximately about 80 percent of that leaves the reservation within 24 hours."

That's because there aren't many businesses on the reservation to capture those dollars. People head straight to border towns to shop. Sorbel says it's bad enough that money doesn't circulate inside a reservation where unemployment's a staggering 60 percent. But it's especially aggravating for such an isolated place. Pine Ridge is the size of Connecticut and has just 25,000 residents in a few towns. Most all are members of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe. Yet people often travel a hundred miles for services as basic as a haircut.

Elsie Meeks: "You know, the tribe as a whole, it's been a bit of a stretch for them to understand that private entrepreneurship is important."

Tribe member Elsie Meeks says small business is missing here because tribal culture emphasizes group advancement, so many still frown on individual profit. But there's a growing number of tribal small-business initiatives and they're paying off. U.S. Census figures show the number of Native-American entrepreneurs nearly doubling in recent years. And here's a surprise: Native-owned small businesses collectively generate more revenue than tribal casinos now."

Get the Story:
Tribe members venture into business world (American Public Media 12/4)

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