- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 31, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - State lawmakers want to make it easier for tribal members on South Dakota’s reservations to purchase homes and start businesses by opening up access to credit.

Sen.-elect Troy Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, said he wants to work with tribal leaders and state banks during the upcoming legislative session as a means of spurring economic development on reservations.

Two state panels aimed at repairing the relationship between the tribes and the state and increasing development opportunities don’t have specific proposals to put forward this session, but a handful of lawmakers have measures they’re considering to introduce on their own.

South Dakota’s reservations are among the poorest areas in the state, with often-elevated unemployment rates, and the tribes have long endured a strained relationship with state government.

Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce President Arlin Whirlwind Horse said banks are slow to issue loans because they’re concerned they won’t be able to foreclose on properties built on trust lands that were used as loan collateral, which restricts the ability of tribal members to access credit.

Tribal Economic Development Task Force Chairman Don Haggar said he wants to see access to credit improve for tribal members, which is also complicated by jurisdictional issues when problems with a loan arise. For example, if a bank has to litigate to collect money on an unpaid loan, banks and tribal members could disagree on whether the dispute should be heard in a civil court or a tribal court.

“The reality is banks are reluctant to do business within the boundaries of the reservations, and that’s … one of the major obstacles we want to overcome here,” Haggar said.

Haggar said if his work group proposes legislation, it will likely be prepared for the 2016 session.

Heinert said he’s seen more communication between the tribes and the state.

“I hope there’s a steady building process, and I’ve seen it in the last couple years,” Heinert said. “There’s a lot of ground to be made up as far as building that relationship.”

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