Symbol: Something that represents something else by association, resemblance or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible. – Dictionary.com
Positive symbols abound in South Dakota for American Indians.
The Crazy Horse memorial in the Black Hills is recognized nationally, and the recent unveiling of “Dignity” at Chamberlain drew widespread attention.
The state, thanks to Gov. George Mickelson, newspaper publisher Tim Giago and others, opened the door to “reconciliation” with the Indian people, which also included the changing of Columbus Day to Native American Day in the state in 1990.
But to paraphrase Mark Twain, symbols are good, symbols are impressive. But it is jobs that will make life better in Indian Country.
Are the Indian people in South Dakota better off today than they were, say, 20 or 50 years ago? Is progress being made in jobs development on the reservations?
“Not enough,” says Tanya Fiddler, executive director of the Native CDFI Network, whose mission is to be an advocate for strengthening and promoting community development financial institutions, which create capital and resources for American Indians.
Unemployment remains high on the state’s nine Indian reservations, though exact numbers are elusive and range from 13 to 80 percent. Fiddler places the jobless at 47 percent.
With unemployment comes poverty, and Indian Country Today Media Network reported that in Oglala Lakota County (formerly Shannon County) located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, nearly half of all households do not have sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that violent crime on reservations is double the national average, as is drug use among youth. The suicide rate on the reservation is also much higher than for the general population.
A key to many of the ills is more jobs. Though business startups have been recorded, much more needs to be done. Fiddler said Indian-owned firms were so few in 1990 they didn’t show up on surveys.
“Now we register at 2 percent. That doesn’t seem significant, but now you have a percentage.”
The dignity of work cannot be overstated, according to Fiddler.
“Each and every human being has a role to play to contribute resources. The dignity of work. A grandmother gathered wood so the family could eat.”
The obstacles to achieving significant gains on the reservations are many and some are decades old.
“So much education is needed in South Dakota,” she said. “When our state thinks we have come far, we haven’t. We are just peeking though a hole in the fence.”
Nov. 16, 2016