Speaker: Focus energy on those who still can reach economic recoveryIt wasn’t easy for Cecelia Fire Thunder to admit, but she said the fight against poverty on reservations across South Dakota cannot be fought by some members who are past the point of economic recovery.
By: Austin Kaus, The Daily Republic
It wasn’t easy for Cecelia Fire Thunder to admit, but she said the fight against poverty on reservations across South Dakota cannot be fought by some members who are past the point of economic recovery.
“On Pine Ridge, a certain percentage of people will die poor, whatever the definition of poverty is. The opportunity for them to enhance their skills and capabilities is gone,” Fire Thunder said during the first day of the Summit on South Dakota Children and Families in Poverty. “We have to focus our energy and our intentions on those who will benefit from our work.”
Fire Thunder, the co-coordinator of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, Oglala Sioux, was one of four panelists who gathered Wednesday at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell to learn and share ideas on ways to combat poverty in South Dakota.
According to the Kids Count survey, 7,000 South Dakota children in 2007 lived in low-income households where no adults work. In that same year, there were 21,000 low-income working families with children in the state.
Fire Thunder said reservation residents, while culturally rich, need to become more involved in government at all levels, from local to national.
She also recommended that reservation-specific research be conducted to get a better idea of what solutions might exist for poverty.
“We use other people’s data,” Fire Thunder said. “One of the challenges that we should leave here with is that we begin to find dollars to do our own research on tribal communities … to get a better sense of what we need.”
Mil Duncan, the director of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, placed a strong emphasis on the responsibility of the community in fighting poverty in South Dakota.
While the state does not rely heavily on rural manufacturing jobs that are quickly disappearing, Duncan said, the loss of other blue-collar jobs can take a toll on the local economy.
Duncan thinks more support needs to be given to children, whether it comes in the form of child-care subsidies or stronger educational opportunities. “Speaking up is what has to happen for development to happen,” Duncan said. “I think your work builds that kind of a future.”
Annette Case, a policy consultant for Strategies to Eliminate Poverty, said changes in local and national policy must occur to improve economic circumstances for residents having trouble making ends meet.
“Our economic situation, in general, is not an accident,” Case said. “It happened because of policy infrastructures that we’ve created.”
The summit continues today from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and will feature panels and presentations on health, nutrition, education and South Dakota in the national context.