Pine Ridge Reservation part of Obama's Promise Zone initiative

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation It's a concept designed to expand economic opportunity in challenged areas and to improve the quality of life.

With a nearly 50 percent poverty rate and a 21 percent unemployment rate, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has been named one of eight new Promise Zones.

Nick Tilsen, Executive Director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, said, "A Promise Zone is about an interagency collaboration with the Department of Justice, Department of Education, Housing, Transportation, these different agencies, to collaborate together to concentrate on pockets of poverty because in order to break the cycle of poverty. You've got to have a concentrated effort."

For more than two years, residents of Pine Ridge put forward a plan demonstrating how they would partner with local businesses and civic leaders to make appropriate investments that will reward hard work, create jobs and provide opportunities for residents to succeed in the 21st century.

Tilsen said, "This is an example of a bottom up approach. We created the plan, that's what made us eligible to compete to become a Promise Zone."

Tilsen says this plan is different from previous ones, and he's positive that change can be made because the plan came directly from the people.

Tilsen said, "This is not something that came from the Federal Government to the Oglala Lakota people. We created this. We created this movement on Pine Ridge to do this work, and we've been doing it. We've been building roads. We've been building houses. We've been trying to look at how to improve education. So it's built upon momentum, and I think in the world of changing the world, momentum is everything."

Tilsen says when you focus, when you coordinate, when you reward a well thought out plan, change can happen.
He says with enough hands on deck, the Pine Ridge economy can only improve from here.

Tilsen said, "We're not talking about putting a dent in poverty; we're going to end poverty on Pine Ridge. We're going to end the housing problem on Pine Ridge, and it's not going to be just because of the Promise Zone. The Promise Zone is just part of that strategy."

The community's regional plan includes about $15 million dollars of new investments in the past 36 months, and with that, infrastructure, education and economic development projects have begun.

Tilsen said, "We don't expect that the Promise Zone itself is going to change everything about Pine Ridge, but it's going to add momentum that we've already built here."