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Cheyenne River’s local economy is about choice and commitment

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By Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

City of Eagle Butte employees (left to right, foreground) Nathan Houston, Richard Briggs and Lonny LaPlante work to bring cheerful holiday street decorations to a waiting (background) Neil Hahne, Eagle Butte Service Lineman for Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative. The city has been replacing the holiday decorations over the past couple years. – Photo by Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Everyone talks about shopping local, but in order to see a vibrant local economy, area business supporters believe that businesses and shoppers must commit to each other.

“As a community we should all strive to buy local when possible. This will help build a stronger local economy and provide more jobs. I would challenge people to check out our local businesses before purchasing out of town. At the same time we encourage local businesses to step up their efforts to market their business and provide a clean, organized, well lit and friendly atmosphere for their customers,” said Mark Shupick, Four Bands Director of Business Development Services.

Four Bands Development Fund is the only area Community Development Financial Institution and a Native CDFI certified by the US Treasury. They work to bring financial literacy to individuals and businesses, including bridging the gaps to make entrepreneurship more accessible financially.

In order for businesses to expand to meet the needs of a growing reservation population, both in Eagle Butte and reservation-wide, businesses cannot settle for business-as-usual, according to local business boosters.

“Customer service needs to be better. It should be better. Our local businesses should value every customer and especially during the holiday season when so much money is leaving the reservation,” said Lonnie Brewer, coordinator of the Cheyenne River Chamber of Commerce.

Stopping the cycle of money leaving the reservation is partially an issue of poverty.

Many reservation families struggle with some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation with some living on barely $800 a month. It can be cheaper to carpool with others and go off the reservation to a big box store like Wal-Mart to buy needed items, including holiday shopping, said Eileen Briggs, Executive Director of Tribal Ventures, an entity of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“There’s over a $100 million that comes here on an annual basis, but it doesn’t stay here. It doesn’t even turn over in this community one time. When we don’t realize how important it is to at least turn over the dollar once here, then local economies, small towns, really struggle to maintain businesses that provide basic services, basic resources,” said Briggs.

Beyond poverty, other issues include customers not understanding how difficult it might be for local businesses to be able to afford buying into big name brands or finding attractive retail space.

With businesses not being able to do more until they start making more, creating a vibrant and expanding local economy in Eagle Butte and across communities on Cheyenne River is definitely a challenge.

At the end of the day, these business supporters think it comes down to choice–of the individual consumer and those running and working in area businesses and entities.

Instead of going to places like Deadwood, the tribe and other businesses could keep meetings and holiday parties located on the reservation at places like Sparky’s Bar and Grille, said Tanya Fiddler, Executive Director of Four Bands.

Businesses and other entities can support other businesses and entities, by making sure federal and other dollars turn over in the communities.

“It is really about a commitment that you have to decide, we have to decide, do we want to make not just our community but our local businesses stand and thrive here,” said Briggs.

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