Native Sun News: Closing of Pine Ridge store stirs controversy

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.


Tribal members are not in agreement whether the Oglala Sioux Tribe should replace the current management of the reservations only grocery store.

Sioux Nation controversy
Arguments for and against closure rage on
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

PINE RIDGE- When the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted unanimously to end the lease of the Sioux Nation shopping center in Pine Ridge some people cheered and some people were angered.

For those who worked at the store the question arose, “What did we do wrong?”

On May 7, 2013, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted unanimously to end the lease of the company Hi-Way 20. This company was responsible for the management of the reservation’s only large full service grocery store and served approximately 30,000 thousand residents of the reservation.

In an open letter Oglala Sioux Tribal president, Bryan Brewer, said the decision to end the lease was a result of the company’s repeated public health violations.

“The Tribe made this decision after conducting an extensive investigation, which revealed that Hi-Way 20 has committed serious and repeated violations of the lease and operated the grocery store in a manned that is contrary to the public health and welfare of the Tribe, its members, and other residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.”

The Oglala Sioux Tribe owns the building that houses the Sioux Nation Shopping Center and the land it sits on. Although the decision by the council has been praised by some community members like Debra White Plume and others, not everyone is appreciative of the decision including those who work at the store.

“While I have worked here we have passed two Indian Health Service inspections and two USDA inspections. The inspectors they brought in were trained on what to look for. The people who came from the tribe and said we had all these violations were not trained in food safety,’ said Steve Shangreau, Jr., a tribal member and the employee responsible for monitoring food safety at Sioux Nation. “The employees here feed our families with the food that is in the store and we wouldn’t ever feed our families, friends, or community members with rotten meat or contaminated food,” he added.

The tribe plans to end the lease on August 4, 2013 however other tribal members are voicing concern that the tribe acted hastily in closing the store. In a letter submitted to Native Sun News, Ken Hart, a tribal member expressed the opinion that the tribe did not consult residents before taking action on ending the lease. “The Brewer/Poor Bear administration took matters in their own hands without consulting any of the voters who put them in the office in the first place. The Council is supposed to be the voice of the people but that voice is not being heard,” he said.

Hart also expressed concern over media coverage of the decision that he felt failed to show that the store had support from other tribal members.

Recently a petition has been circulated on the reservation by tribal members in support of the current owners of the store. At the time of this writing there were over 1,200 tribal members who have signed the petition.

“Twelve hundred is a significant amount of people. In any recent tribal election that many people would be enough to swing it; hopefully the council will listen to our concerns,” said Shangreau.

According to Shangreau there just isn’t any evidence that the store had violated any health protocols over the last couple of years that he had been working at the store.

“Where are the facts and the evidence? Everyone is going off of emotion but the fact is there just isn’t any evidence for what they are saying,” stated Shangreau. “I have been superintendent of a packing plant where I was responsible for training employees on food safety and I am certified to know what to look for. Then again I really am not anybody but an employee and a tribal member, but it kind of makes me upset when the tribe brings people in to inspect who are not trained or qualified on what to look for."

According to sources the inspectors from the tribe were representatives of the tribe’s economic development office and not from personnel trained in food safety. Calls to the tribe’s economic development and revenue office went unanswered when NSN attempted to contact them.

A press release from the Sioux Nation Shopping center stated that the management of the store was not allowed to provide any input on the decision and looked forward to addressing the concerns that the tribal council had.

An additional concern voiced by Shangreau, Hart, and other was the job security of the employees currently working at the store. President Brewer however attempted to address these concerns in the open letter he sent to the people of the reservation.

“The tribe plans to open a new store within 48 hours of Hi-Way 20’s departure. The new store will be clean, safe, and sanitary, and it will offer a mix of groceries that are fresh, healthy and reasonably priced. The Tribe pledges that no employees will lose their jobs. They will be given an opportunity to work full time, with benefits and career advancement opportunities,” said Brewer in the letter. However, tribal members that have seen the tribe’s shoddy track record on running a business are also deeply concerned.

When contacted by Native Sun News President Brewer stated that the concerns of tribal members and the production of jobs were extremely important to his administration.

“We do our best to listen to the people’s concerns and worries. Each decision that comes out of my office is made with the best interests of the people in mind,” he said.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at staffwriter2@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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