Published January 1, 1997 | January 1997 issue
If South Dakota lawmakers are serious about creating jobs on the nine Indian reservations in the state as they have said, then they should do something about it. The opportunity is there.
Rep. Ron Volesky, D-Huron, plans to introduce legislation that would create the first State-Tribal Economic Development Commission in South Dakota to promote general economic development and job training on reservations.
There has been a suffocating deluge of forums and discussions about advancing the economic status of the state's Indian population. There is little, if anything, to show for all the talk. Late last year, lawmakers said they had taken the first step by focusing attention on the need for job creation on the reservations.
It is now time for the all-important second step, and it must be a giant one. Legislation must be passed to ensure that something concrete is done on the reservations in the area of economic development. Support on both sides of the aisle will be critical. The unemployment rate on most reservations is 50 percent or higher. Except for casino gambling, there have been very few forward-looking ideas to reduce reservation unemployment.
The lack of jobs and related poverty fosters other problems, including crime, alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, violence and broken families. Jobs are not going to be a cure-all to those problems, but putting people to work will eliminate a significant portion of them.
Volesky, who is an American Indian, believes job creation will solve "90 percent" of the social problems.
Economic development on the reservations becomes more crucial with the advent of welfare reform on the federal level.
"With the block grants coming down from the federal government and block grants going to our Indian reservations with the requirement that a certain number of welfare recipients find employment in a certain time, it is critical that we get serious about job development and economic development on our state's reservations," Volesky says.
Initial funding of the commission would be $200,000: The state would contribute half, and the tribal governments in South Dakota would provide the balance.
Distributing state dollars is always a balancing act, but Volesky says every job created on a reservation could help save a family.
Few could argue that there's a better investment than a family.