- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

PORCUPINE, S.D. (AP) - Nearly $2.6 million in grants for economic development efforts on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are going to projects ranging from water and waste disposal at a tribal college to training businesses on buffalo meat processing, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday during a visit to the area.

The largest grant is $1.85 million to construct a landfill, buy equipment and for construction and repairs at Oglala Lakota College, which is also receiving about $160,800 for a communications system. The Thunder Valley Community Development Corp., where Vilsack made the announcement, received $375,000 in part for a demonstration farm and education center.

“I think these grants are a recognition of the important partnership that we have nation-to-nation and the responsibility that we have to help young people understand that there is a bright future,” Vilsack said. “This is a tremendously beautiful landscape and vista. I was struck by it when I traveled here today, and it occurred to me that there is an unlimited amount of potential here.”

Vilsack said President Barack Obama’s administration is “profoundly touched” by the reservation being an area of great promise, but also “extraordinary poverty and challenges.” Pine Ridge is home to about 35,000 people - nearly half of whom live below the poverty level.

The other grants include $134,260 for training of agricultural producers; $49,500 to provide assistance and training to businesses on buffalo meat processing; $48,700 for purchasing two police vehicles in Oglala; and $18,800 to purchase a police vehicle in Oglala Lakota County.

Vilsack attended a discussion at Oglala Lakota College before touring the development corporation’s complex, where he also heard from members of a youth leadership development program.

Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley, said the visit shows that the Obama administration is paying attention. He said there needs to be a partnership between the community and federal agencies, as well as extra attention for Pine Ridge from the federal government.

“This place needs rejuvenation, it needs a regeneration, to get federal partners, to get new folks excited about what the possibilities are for here, and for us to focus less on what the problems are and more focus on what the solutions are,” Tilsen said after leading the tour with Vilsack. “I think that’s what this has meant for us and the momentum we’re trying to build here on Pine Ridge.”

The development corporation is managing the implementation of Pine Ridge as a “Promise Zone,” a designation that came from the Obama administration. The federal program’s goals include increasing economic activity, improving health and reducing violent crime. The designation gives the impoverished communities an advantage in obtaining grants and other federal assistance.


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