Casket firm brings jobs, hope to Pine Ridge reservationThe company, owned by a group of investors led by the Wounded Knee Community Development Corp., is a landmark in economic development for a reservation where unemployment is almost 80 percent.
By: Ryan Lengerich , Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY (AP) — Roby Cottier always wanted to own a woodworking business, but kick-starting any venture on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is like walking up the down escalator.
He had no assets or collateral, so a loan was a long shot. Two months ago, he had nothing to do but spend afternoons on his couch, eating potato chips. Then something happened. He landed a job — a woodworking job — on the reservation.
Now, though he may not be the owner of his own woodworking business, Cottier, 32, is a foreman at Sioux-Preme Wood Products Co., a wood-casket assembly company that opened last month in Manderson.
The company, owned by a group of investors led by the Wounded Knee Community Development Corp., is a landmark in economic development for a reservation where unemployment is almost 80 percent.
Cottier manages 11 employees who assemble and detail solid-wood caskets for Native and non-Native customers across the Black Hills and surrounding states.
“They all have families,” Cottier said of his employees. “You know how that makes me feel? It makes me feel good to know I actually accomplish something. We are making history on the reservation as a business.”
Up a dirt road just minutes outside Manderson, population 626, sit three white, former school buildings. The view across the plains is spectacular, but as recently as last winter, the structures sat in ruin with damaged siding and shattered windows.