Oglala Indian tribe debates development, tourism optionsWOUNDED KNEE — The Oglala Sioux Tribe occupies a seemingly prime piece of South Dakota — a vast, scenic reservation that stands near a crossroads for tourists visiting Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the historic Old West town of Deadwood and other popular sites.
By: Kristi Eaton, The Associated Press
WOUNDED KNEE — The Oglala Sioux Tribe occupies a seemingly prime piece of South Dakota — a vast, scenic reservation that stands near a crossroads for tourists visiting Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the historic Old West town of Deadwood and other popular sites.
But don’t look for museums, hotels, restaurants or even many bathrooms here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, because the Lakota make little effort to attract visitors or tourism dollars, despite the fact that they are one of the nation’s poorest tribes.
A generation after many other American Indians sought to harness their history for profit, the Oglala Sioux are still debating how much culture they are willing to share.
“When you take a community of people where at one point our language was outlawed and parts of our culture were outlawed, it’s hard for us to, I guess, open up to the idea of sharing that in a way to make money off of it,” said Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley, a nonprofit on Pine Ridge set up to keep traditional Lakota culture alive among young people.
Tourism is big business for some of the country’s best-known Indian tribes,. The Navajo Nation in the Southwest welcomed some 600,000 visitors who spent $113 million last year.
In Oklahoma, nearly 45,000 people visited the Cherokee Nation’s Heritage Center museum.
But the Oglala Sioux stand apart in southwestern South Dakota. They have just one tribally run casino-and-hotel complex, the Prairie Wind, on the western side of the reservation and recently opened a smaller casino in Martin, a town near the reservation’s eastern edge.
The tribe, Tilsen said, is not “totally against” development.
Some tribal members think the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where more than 250 men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890, should be turned into a tourist attraction with a museum.
Others are fiercely opposed to development, saying it would be disrespectful to the dead.