The former Oglala Ridge General Store in Oglala, South Dakota. Photo: Oglala Ridge General Store
Business | Opinion

Jeffrey Whalen: Oglala Sioux Tribe has no business running a business

It’s up to the Tribe to save the store at Oglala

By Jeffrey Whalen
Native Sun News Today Columnist

The Oglala-Ridge Store in Oglala, South Dakota has been a small but important economic engine for that village. Locals didn’t have to travel 30 miles on a round trip into Pine Ridge just to get a loaf of bread. They could purchase gas locally, sodas, chips, basic essentials, and the like. Until recently, the Oglala-Ridge Store was a convenience store located next to SD Highway 18 right in the middle of town.

The media has covered this thoroughly throughout the past several months, so it should be widely known as to why the store has been closed. I’m going to write about it again.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe decided to close the store because back sales taxes and land lease money were owed by the store. If a person leases land on Pine Ridge, there is a clause in the lease agreement where it basically reads that after a certain period of time, and after a lease has been vacated, the improvements automatically revert to the ownership of the tribe. Once the Oglala Sioux Tribal leadership decided to close the Oglala-Ridge store due to back taxes and back leases owed, they posted a security guard at the store, placed yellow police tape around the compound and basically confiscated everything.

The lease agreement doesn’t say “assets will be confiscated,” it reads that there will be a period of time allowed for the assets to be removed. Money was owed to the tribe, so the tribe took full advantage of the situation.

I came across a document that was drafted by the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Revenue Office. The date of the draft is January 12, 2018. It is a budget where it appears that the tribe is going to attempt to reopen and operate the store themselves. This seems extremely odd because the OST Revenue Department is one of the entities who the store owes money to and who is the main entity who assisted with justifying the closing of the store. Was there an ulterior (hidden) motive in closing the store? This seems really fishy and stinks on the face of it.

Jeffrey Whalen. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

First, the tribe has no business being in business. It does not now and probably never will know how to operate a business. Take the casino for example; 25 or 30 years ago Mr. G. Wayne Tapio approached me and wanted me to vote in favor of establishing a casino. The promise was that we will all start getting monthly per capita payments from the net revenues. Today, the casino is in deep debt and has never been able to pay any per capita to anybody.

Their Farm and Ranch program went belly up, any type of business that the tribe tries to become engaged in always ends in failure. So why is it suddenly so special to “take over” the Oglala Ridge Store and why does the tribal leadership think it can salvage this store? The tribe’s historical track record for business development has been nothing but failures.

I strongly believe that the tribe should have negotiated with the managers of the Oglala Ridge Store to get them to come into compliance even if they had to enter into a long-range repayment agreement. There is a document that shows a July 2016 store sales summary while the store was still operating, that records a net revenue of $45,076.92. If the store was netting 45k per month, I would assume that it would have had enough cash to start making the needed sales tax and land lease payments that it owed.

The net effect of a long-term agreement would have insured that the store remained open and more importantly, that the service to the locals would not be interrupted. Apparently, the tribal leadership either did not have their business thinking caps on that day or they had ulterior motives. They should have looked for business solutions to help the local economy in that area, but no, just like everything else, they killed it.

The budget that was drafted by the OST Revenue Office is relatively simplified and doesn’t include much of any projections aka proforma. I don’t know if this is a budget for 3 months or if it is a budget for the entire year. It shows that the salaries for a month period is $65,000 and it shows a total budget in the amount of $211,000. It appears that the total budget will be all expenses and does not identify any gross or net revenues. This is where a proforma would be used to estimate all of the financials but again, it doesn’t exist, there is only an expenses budget.

If the tribe is attempting to operate the store, they had better get their act together because the limited documents that I have seen simply sets this thing up for failure. They probably should do a deep dive into some of the historical records at the store to get a better feel of what to do in terms of budgeting and creating a business plan.

My contention is going to stay the same where the tribe has no business being in business. We are not a socialist government we are supposed to be a democratic government that allows the private sector to operate through capitalism. We remain one of the poorest counties in America because our leadership cannot figure out how to create a viable economy here. Is it simple enough to understand that the leadership should sit down to create laws that allow capitalism to flourish, rather than punish it?

The closing of the Oglala-Ridge Store by this tribe is a prime example of punishment of capitalism. What did they achieve by closing this store? Well, the Oyate now have to travel much further to obtain needed supplies. It is no longer convenient for them to drive down the block to visit the ATM machine. It is no longer possible to buy gas locally. Remember, the closest gas station is 15 miles away, so the locals have to plan for a 30 mile trip just to buy gas. They can no longer get a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk without traveling an extended distance.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, their Revenue Department and Land Office is hurting the economy in Oglala and don’t seem to care because today, it appears that the Revenue Department was in a “take over” mode. Our President Scott Weston should put an immediate stop to all these actions by the tribe because as of now, who in their right mind would want to come anywhere on Pine Ridge to set up a business knowing that the tribe can close you down and take all of the assets, building, gas pumps, houses, inventory, lock stock and barrel? The answer is NOBODY.

The tribe just gave themselves a poison pill that will further lead to more death of our economy not only in Oglala but in all of our districts. We will never be able to attract any type of business to set up here because of the greed or non-business minded people who continuously lead this tribe into economic oblivion.

It was my understanding that the tribe was supposed to close the store and sell or auction the assets off in order to recover what is owed to the tribe. Maybe that action should continue because right now it looks like some unscrupulous individuals within the tribal leadership are attempting to count coup on the Oglala-Ridge Store and for who’s benefit? I smell rotten fish and it stinks.

I would strongly recommend that the tribe go back to the negotiating table with Tyler Yellow Boy who I understand is the Oglala District Chairman. Allow the store to reopen.

For example, if the store owes OST $50,000, waive all of it because of the damage that has been caused to the local population by unreasonably closing their store. Assist the store with getting back into full operation. Force the tribal Revenue Director to physically go collect taxes each month and do the same for the Land Office annually when the lease is due. Show good faith that the tribe can work with entities who are in debt to them, this will go a long way in making other business owners take notice and may even entice them to establish stores on Pine Ridge.

This should be the lesson learned and this is how you create jobs and maintain a growing economy.


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