Tribal Legislative Consideration: the ‘Vanishing Americans’ Comeback

(This is a summary of legislative thoughts inspired by a recent briefing from the former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Carl Artman, who spoke on Dakota Midday.)

 by Meghan Thoreau

There are 566 Tribes in the US. Nine tribes in South Dakota that make up almost 10% of the state’s population according to the US Census Bureau. In 2012, “every county located on a reservation has shown growth in population while many of the other rural counties have shown a loss.”1 This trend continues through to 2015. Native Americans were known as the “Vanishing Americans,” 100 years later, they are one of the fastest growing groups in America.2 Many tribes see this growth as positive, but are struggling with how to capitalize the growth to benefit Indian economic development efforts.

Rapid City’s Native American population grew over 40 percent in the last past 10 years.3 That’s over 12.5% of Rapid City’s total population according to the US Census Bureau.

“On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation alone there are four high schools and several elementary and middle schools employing several hundred well-paid teachers [that could be debated] and administrators and the majority of these employees are Native American.”4

Indian Tribes of South Dakota



It appears that the Native youth want to stay on the reservation, and the hope is that more people will want to come back to the reservation after going out to get an education and/or work experience. There is a growing desire to reinvestment into Native communities and this will allow a tribe to grow, create an economic base, social infrastructure, and context where people want to come back to.

Unique challenges for South Dakota. We are a rural state. Gaming industries appear more successful in states with greater populations then South Dakota currently has.We have to look at other economic opportunity and partnerships such as ‘Tribal tourism’ and ‘Indian Economic Development’ efforts and legislation that address Native barriers.

Such discussions are absent in this legislative session. Lawmakers should be crafting legislation that make a region, make a state more successful and inclusive of its people and their issues. The Agua Caliente is a great example of regional success between tribe, city, and state.

Tribes need long term strategic planning opportunities. Tribal nations have a rich and lengthy history that goes back 10,000 years. There is numerous examples of cooperative efforts in that long history that forged great successes and alliances between tribes and governments.

One Lakota value is to ‘put the people before the self.’ In a capitalistic society, we ‘put the individual before the people.’ How can we overcome our cultural difference to bring culturally appropriate development? How Natives rank an individual’s value varies slightly between tribes, but commerce has existed for a very long time. Tribal business has made huge advances in the last couple decades, but there are still real barriers to tribal economic development that don’t exist in our cities. For examples, the ‘trust land issue’ prohibits most Native entrepreneurs to receive traditional bank loans, because the applicant may not have real property to offer as collateral.

Arizona State University College of Law started a program focused on Indian Economic Development. The program took creative approaches, such as collateralizing the infrastructure and buildings on the land instead of the land itself. How can South Dakota tribes start business on reservation? If the location and population is not the issue, perhaps the lack of legal infrastructure to start a business is the barrier. Many tribes have started adopting the uniform commercial code and corporation and limit liability laws that are similar to the rest of the nation. Tribes are improving their tribal courts so that there is consistency and predictability going into the tribal courts for a non-tribal business. The lending and commercial laws could be made consistent, easily published, and accessible. Having a strong legal structure will incentivize people to want to come to a reservation and want to do business there, because there is consistent laws, stability, and predictability, which are all the things capital demands.

‘Native people are uniquely drawn to the reservation and land, because a millennial of culture and history that is still preserved there.’ The reservation offers a spiritual land base to draw from, protect, grow, and improve.

Tim Giago, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, advises “merchants in cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota to take a lesson from innovators like Roger Jordain: Native Americans are not the “Vanishing Americans” but are instead one of the fastest growing minority groups in the state and they will soon be one of your most important economic contributors.”9

Therefore legislative bills and discussions need to be more inclusive of the people and issues that are currently occurring in South Dakota.


There are a few banking lending bills, but nothing appears to address the Native Economic Development Issues of lending to Natives with Trust Land issues, bill references below.

HB 1025  An Act to revise certain provisions regarding banks and banking.

  • Section 1: Day to day decision making was moved from the (volunteer) commission to the director.
  • Section 2: Day to day decision making on Community Development Investment projects made by banks, provides the authority to restrict that investment by a bank, authority change from the (volunteer) commission to the director.
  • In 2008 every application had to go before the commission. The commission met 4 times a year, hearing applications, not able to address other matters, supervision of the division, etc. The proposed bill shifts all decision making to the Director, but the commission serves as the appellate body on all applications, so if the applicant was aggrieved/ by a decision of the Director they would go before the commission with their appeal. The commission is still very involved if a bank as to be taken possession of, oversight of the division, new applications, enforcement activity.

HB 1027  An Act to revise certain provisions regarding the regulation of certain money lending activities.

  • Section 1: Definition update.
  • Section 3: shifting terms to calendar year end.
  • Section 4: addresses the divisions enforcement authorities
  • Section 5: Internet lending. Effects entities taking out a loan from another state.
  • Section 6: Specifies what lenders can not do when trying to collect debt.
  • Section 7: Information exchange.
  • Section 8: Outsource certain functions.
  • Section 9: Confidentiality requirements.

Online audio workshop discussions on bills:







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