For generations, the Sicangu Lakota were persecuted and prohibited from practicing their religion and traditional ways. But the spirit of the South Dakota tribe was never broken. "We have a history of standing up and fighting for our rights," says Wizipan Little Elk "and we continue to fight for our freedom to live how we want.”
That freedom and focus on traditional ways is the foundation of the new Keya Wakpala Waicageyapi Development. The Executive Director and CEO of Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), Little Elk has played a key role in the process of creating a master plan to transform an 600-acre swath of land west of the City of Mission, South Dakota, in a way that centers community and environmental sustainability.
“One thing that separates us and helps define who we are is that we don’t approach the work that we do from a deficit base,” Little Elk explains. “I think that we come at it from an asset base instead. We’re not looking at everything that’s wrong and throwing our hands up in the air and asking for handouts. Rather, we have challenges that we’re actively addressing, and we want partners and allies to help us address those challenges.”
The Keya Wakpala plan addresses several pressing community challenges including a major shortage of affordable housing; lack of suitable energy, water, and transportation infrastructure; and high rates of poverty. According to Little Elk, the community isn’t focused on those hurdles. Instead, they see potential in partnerships, collaboration, and innovative planning.
Spearheaded by REDCO, the economic development arm of the Sicangu Lakota, the master plan includes single family, multifamily, and commercial development, along with community spaces, agricultural lands, and open spaces protected from development.
According to Little Elk, the plan is firmly rooted in the key goals and values of the Sicangu Lakota community.
“We went through an extensive community engagement process with tribal citizens to specifically ask — What do you want? What do you want to see? — and that’s how we developed the Keya Wakpala master plan,” explained Little Elk.
Photos (top and above): Community members work in the community garden, a centerpiece of the Keya Wakpala Development
Above: The symbol for the Keya Wakpala Waicageyapi Development
Keya Wakpala Waicageyapi is a Lakota phrase that translates, in English, to Turtle Creek Green Development. Each aspect of the master plan centers the cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability and independence of the Sincagu Lakota people.
“Its purpose is to be a safe place for Lakota people and their relatives to live, work, play, and grow,” Little Elk said. “In developing a modern community faithful to Lakota traditions, we have certain core principles that we stick to, including sustainability. Part of sustainability is being self-sufficient, so we want to maximize onsite food production and energy production. Sustainability also means that the homes, the buildings — everything we produce — has to be environmentally friendly, and we have to provide as many services locally as possible. From a business standpoint, it means we create a commercial center on the reservation for people to get food and other goods and services so that we can continue to grow our local economy and continue toward our goal of being self sufficient.”
REDCO is now taking major strides forward in developing that commercial center, which will meet a local need for goods and services as well as support the economy of the Sicangu Lakota.
This October, Red Dawn Foster, Keya Wakpala Coordinator and Business Coordinator at REDCO worked with Luis Pereira, Economic Development Manager at Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) to secure a $69,000 Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI) grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior - Indian Affairs to conduct an economic development feasibility study. REDCO is currently in the process of hiring a consultant to conduct the study.
According to Pereira, the study is an important next step in making the project successful.
“It’s going to be a great tool to focus the project and to determine what’s realistic in terms of economic development and what can be supported in the market,” Pereira said. “The goal is to start with businesses and uses in this development that will be able to cash flow on day one and be successful.”
Pereira said he’s impressed by the Keya Wakpala plan.
“It’s a bold plan, and I’m a planner by background, so I love projects like this that stem from community input,” Pereira said. “Keya Wakpala represents a great opportunity for the community because it comes from the cultural values of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and it’s a living plan and a launching point for the community to meet pressing local needs.”
Pereira coordinated with Foster to create a Request for Proposals (RFP) for consultants and to develop scoring criteria to determine which consultant fits best with the project.
“Having the technical assistance from MHP was really great because they bring a lot of experience with these types of processes,” Foster said. “It was a lot of work, but it went really smoothly.”
Foster was elated when she discovered REDCO had secured the award.
“Knowing that we were successful was rewarding not just because we were recognized for the time we spent and the effort we put in,” Foster explained. “It means so much to the community to have something like this. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do this type of analysis on our own.”
Foster said that she’s inspired by community members’ collaboration and determination to make life better for one another.
“You have youth working with elders and everyone in between working together, treating each other well, and wanting to make a better community and improve quality of life,” Foster said. “It’s really great to be a part of that.”
Pictured right: Sketches from the Keya Wakpala master plan