Hope and Opportunity on Pine Ridge Rez

Northwest Area Foundation Header

Gary Cunningham, VP and Chief Program Officer of Northwest Area Foundation, responsible for carrying out the foundation’s mission to support efforts to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable prosperity in an eight state Northwest region wrote a recent article on promising programs in action  on Pine Ridge rez and adds a good measure of hope to the many somber reports we have read recently.

Please read his entire post and then I’d like to hear your opinion in the comments, especially if you are a resident of Pine Ridge or neighboring reservations. My questions for the rez residents would be:

1- Do you know about these programs in place on Pine Ridge?

2- Have you seen them in action?

3- Are these programs effective for Pine Ridge?

For neighboring and all other rez residents:

1- Do you have similar programs?

I’m going to list the programs that Cunningham writes about so we can easily refer back to them in the future.

Thunder Valley

:: Thunder Valley Development Corporation ::

…Born out of these spiritual roots, the young people of Pine Ridge have created Thunder Valley Development Corporation to empower Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture and environment of their community by healing and strengthening of their cultural identity.


The overwhelming majority of the Board of Directors and staff are Oglala Sioux.

Once we reached Thunder Valley, Nick Tilsen provided a powerful presentation on building community, empowering young people, and on civic and spiritual engagement. He explained that Thunder Valley Development Corporation has a bold vision of building a planned community on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

If you’d like to help Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation click here.

Native American Natural Foods logo

:: Native American Natural Foods ::

We were then given a tour of Native American Natural Foods, which was founded in 2005 on the Pine Ridge Reservation by owners Karlene Hunter and Mark Tilsen. According to the Native American Natural Foods website, Tanka means “delivering your best with all your heart, mind, body and spirit. It is the choices that you make and the actions that you take to be who you are. Whether you’re Native, white, black, yellow or brown, it is your ability to overcome, to extend a helping hand for those in need, to defeat racism, to protect our Mother Earth, and to love all others on our planet. It is your ability to acknowledge “Mitakuye Oyasin” — we are all related.”

Native American Natural Foods has teamed up with Thunder Valley.

…Thunder Valley E-TANKA café, a partnership between the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and Native American Natural Foods, creator of the TANKA bar.

You can order their online products here. I regret to inform you that the Buffalo Hot Dogs are not available online. (Yes, I’m a carnivore…)

:: First Peoples Fund ::

First Peoples Fund image

First Peoples Fund… Lori Pourier, President focuses on:

…the youth who are finding their way through education, community projects and entrepreneurial development. Lori indicated that a lot of “healing that needs to take place.” Lori and others are building the bases for a new renaissance in Indian country.

…First Peoples Fund honors and celebrates native artists who exemplify indigenous values of generosity, wisdom, respect, integrity, strength, fortitude and humility.  

If you’d like to help First Peoples Fund support the advancement of American Indian arts by creating businesses and grant funding click here.

Oweesta logo

:: First Nations Oweesta ::

First Nations Oweesta is a national organization whose mission is to provide opportunities for Native people to develop assets and create wealth by assisting in the establishment of strong, permanent institutions and programs, that contribute to economic independence and strengthen sovereignty for all Native communities The First Nations Oweesta Corporation provides training, technical assistance, investments research and advocacy for the development of Native CDFIs and other support organizations in Native communities. It is working with tribes throughout the country to build a financial infrastructure one individual, one family, one business, one community at a time.

If you’d like to contribute to Oweesta click here.

Other institutions mentioned in this comprehensive article were:

Oglala Lakota College

Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce

Lakota Funds

I am encouraged by this report of Native individuals building businesses that directly affect their reservations. I also thought it was important to list the many institutions that are making an effort to help our First Nations. Again, I would like to hear from the actual Pine Ridge residents to see if any of this feel good article has actually reached them.

Update: April 8th, Email from Autumn Two Bulls, a resident of Pine Ridge.

I have read this article and it upset me in way. Why it upset me is because not all of our people here on the rez have these advantages as others. There’s so many obsticles to this. I know these programs are offering good positive out reach but we need more of them and to expand them. Here’s and example of the obsticals, no car, live to far out, no babysitter, single parent families, lack of education because of these obstacles. I would like to see these programs try to go into every deep district and do more out reach. I personally know because i live out in the districts. If they can maybe set up a travel out reach to come into the districts maybe lets say 2 times a month this would be great. But as far as i have seen, nothing. This article painted the image that Pine Ridge is not hurting and we are just fine. but that is not the truth.  i know many can get up and help ourselves, well also remember alot of our people are struggling from Genocide, alcoholism, ect. I am not saying my people are bad in any way. Just saying that we need to address these issues first hand. Get healthy and get a good start. So let’s see how far they can reach the people. I know and see what’s going here. Maybe people don’t like what i say but it’s the truth. Not everybody is recieving help from these programs and if anything i asked and alot of them never heard of them. Let’s remember the forgotten people here. I extend my hand and invite out to you to come and see and hear for your selves. You can only know the truth if you experience our hardships yourselves. Maybe this person who wrote this article should come live with us here for a least a year know the truth and go from there. As for our culture it is beating and alive.  more of our youth are picking it up. But we need more than this to bring a whole Nation out of poverty.

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H/T Oke for finding this article this morning.

1 Comment

  1. I missed this while it was on dkos, it came up on the day I drove a hundred miles to visit my doc. The programs you mentioned that are on PR all seem like good efforts that deserve support. I noticed several mentions of Mark Tilsen and his son Nick. Marks dad Ken Tilsen was a lead AIM attorney for the Wounded Knee trials back in the seventies. He spent so much time on the rez that he moved his family there from Minnisota. Then his son Mark got married to an AIM woman, they had children and there’s now a Tilsen family on Pine Ridge. All of them are activists and are working to do good there.

    These programs do have a beneficial effect and they help some people but they’re too small to allieviate much poverty or provide many jobs. Usually they help those few who know how to get on the inside of the specific program but the masses of people remain as poor as ever. But I give them an A+ for trying.

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