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Opinion
Notes from Indian Country: Bill Gates should look in his own backyard


Posted by request of Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji. � 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

Since graduation time is here for Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and at the other thirty colleges located on Indian reservations across western America, I wanted to know; what happens next?

I called Tom Short Bull, the president of OLC to find out. Short Bull is very proud of the accomplishments of the Indian colleges and well he should be. As I have said so often, the Indian colleges are one of the best-kept secrets in America. They were developed from the hearts and minds of the Indian people. If any critic is looking for an Indian success story in America they need look no further than the Indian colleges. But in spite of their unequivocal success, they are one of the most under funded college systems in America.

White liberals with good intentions, have told me on innumerable occasions, that the only way Indians will ever pull themselves up out of poverty is to get an education. When I tell these folks about the many success stories of the Indian owned colleges they are usually aghast because they didn�t know such a higher educational system existed on Indian reservations.

Short Bull takes pride in the many RN�s now working in the Indian hospitals across America that got their degrees from the Indian colleges. He is extremely happy about the many elementary and high school teachers now working in the reservation schools thanks to gaining their degrees at the Indian colleges. The colleges fulfilled the two most basic needs in Indian country first; health and education. They next took on the challenges of bringing businesses and jobs.

Marilyn Kockrow is the Department Chair/Program Coordinator of the Applied Science & Technology Department of Oglala Lakota College. She has been charged with the responsibility of finding ways and means to creating entrepreneurs on the reservation. She said, �One of the first things we need to do in order to be successful is to find ways to bring houses here. If we are to build businesses we need to be able to find homes for the business builders.�

Kockrow knows there must be a business code enacted in order to protect prospective business owners and the acquisition of land to build upon must be made much easier by the tribal government. She said, �One thing that discourages people wanting to open businesses here is the difficulties they face in trying to find land or even a building. There is plenty of land but much of it is held in trust or is a part of a fractionated heirship.�

The next and probably the biggest problem in securing a loan is that funds through the tribe or the Bureau of Indian Affairs are non-existent. An Indian cannot walk into a bank in one of the towns bordering the reservation (there is no bank on the Pine Ridge Reservation) and secure a loan. If that Indian owns land it is held in trust by the federal government and cannot be used as collateral. And funds for economic development allocated to the BIA have been cut so dramatically that the coffers are nearly empty.

Organizations such as the Lakota Fund have limited resources. They often give small loans, but they are not in a position to extend large loans. If a person wanted to open an auto repair shop it would take somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $100,000 to get the doors open. If all one has is a dream and nothing else, the dream usually ends at the loan department of a local bank.

U. S. senators and congressmen have known for years that economic development is key to the survival, the revival and the success of Indian nations. I�m not even going to get into casinos here because out here in Indian country the casinos are barely surviving and are not making enough in profits to set up a pool of money for business loans.

Getting a loan through the Small Business Administration is about as difficult as getting the winning ticket in the lottery. South Dakota has been setting aside tax money for budding entrepreneurs called The Redi-Fund. My former newspaper labeled it The Whitey-Fund because 99 percent of the loans it made went to white people.

Tom Short Bull and Marilyn Kockrow have grand and attainable goals for the college and its efforts to train businessmen and women and to assist them in securing the funds to build businesses on the reservation. All they lack is the money. Kockrow said, �Last year we managed to get $40,000 from the Kellogg Fund and other sources and we are trying to raise that to $70,000 next year.� That is just a drop in the bucket for the college that hopes to make a difference. It is also a slap in the face to these dedicated people.

Short Bull said, �88 percent of our graduates stay on the reservation to work.� How many college communities in America can make that same claim?

While the Bill Gates� of this country are tooling around the world handing out money to poor people of other nations, I get very angry that they do not take a look in their own back yard. Why don�t they visit Pine Ridge and have a �sit-down� with Short Bull and Kockrow and talk to the many Indian students just itching to open their own businesses?

If Gates and other billionaires want to meet people so dedicated to a cause that they place it above all else, at times even above their own health, they need to meet Tom Short Bull and Marilyn Kockrow and then they might learn a little bit about the true nature of the American Indian. Until they do, they will never know the meaning of the word �dedication.�

(Tim Giago is the president of the Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc., and the publisher of Indian Education Today Magazine. He can be reached at najournalists@rushmore.com or by writing him at 2050 W. Main St., Suite 5, Rapid City, SD. He was also the founder and former publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers.)

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