Tribe improves food access on Cheyenne River Reservation
The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation is about 100 miles east to west and about 90 miles north and south, and for many living there, a typical trip to buy food involves a very long drive.
For 22 years, Lakota Thrifty Mart - a tribally owned, full service grocery store - has been exceeding expectations as to what a small town grocery store can be.
Now, LTM is bringing its brand of quality, community-minded service to more corners of the reservation.
"We're our own tribally owned store, we're the only store within 80-100 radius miles, so this is the core for the reservation for groceries, so this is where everybody shops," said LTM assistant floor manager Cindy Marshall.
Lakota Thrifty Mart was established with three goals in mind - to put revenue back into the tribe, to create jobs, and to raise the bar on the quality of food available in Eagle Butte - all while keeping prices reasonable.
"Even though we have a very captive market here, we're the only store in town, we still we don't take advantage of that," said LTM General Manager Bernie LaPlant.
"We have the 12 departments in the store and everybody contributes. all of the workers, they know their jobs well. They know what our customers want. And that's the good thing about being in a smaller town, too. We get to know personally what they want. A lot of my Service Counter girls, they know exactly what that customer wants before they even ask," said Marshall.
Now, thanks to a recent push for economic development, and approval from the tribal council, money from the Tribal Equitable Compensation Act or TECA is being used to build three new stores - convenience stores that will sell gas and groceries in Takini and LaPlant and a new full-service grocery store in Dupree.
"A mom and pop operation decided to shut its doors and so we purchased their store and tore it down and now we're building brand new," said LaPlant.
A contractor from Blue Earth, Minnesota is heading up the project - and using local labor. The construction jobs and the opportunities created by the new store are crucial for Ziebach County, which is the poorest in the U.S.
"So it benefits all the membership, provides a service for our members, provides jobs for our members, and then generates revenue back to our tribal coffers which, again, helps all the members that need help," said LaPlant, "It's gonna be a beautiful facility. We will manage it. So the people on that end of the reservation will get the same service - the same customer service - same everything that they receive here."
Lakota Thrifty Mart management hopes to celebrate the Dupree store's grand opening by October. Construction has yet to start on the new convenience stores.