The themes of hope, recovery and collaboration dominated the Legislature’s Whiteclay Task Force Summit on Saturday.
In the glass-enclosed rotunda of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Nursing Home just south of Whiteclay, ideas for economic development and a look at the regional healthcare challenges were presented. All of the ideas came with calls for collaboration between the OST, the State of Nebraska, private individuals and nonprofits.
But while there was optimism about the future, questions about outreach to tribal leaders to attend the summit arose more than once, and at one point tensions spiked after a local official was perceived to have spoken negatively of Whiteclay and the Native American population in Pine Ridge.
“The solutions have to come from the tribe … and they’re not here today,” said Judi Gaiashkibos, the executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, expressing disappointment when introducing herself at the summit.
Both Sen. Tom Brewer and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks addressed the issue, assuring those present that the task force had indeed invited tribal leaders to attend.
“You can’t force people to come and participate,” Sen. Brewer said. Those outreach efforts will continue, but it will take time and baby steps, he continued.
“So let’s focus on the goal of making Whiteclay a better place.”
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Troy Weston had planned to attend, but was called to Rapid City for other responsibilities, Sen. Pansing Brooks explained, reading a brief email from Weston.
The morning session of the summit focused mostly on economic development, with the potential for a makerspace stirring passions.
James Keim of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Foundation explained the makerspace concept to the roughly 50 people in the room, calling it a community center with tools. The Innovation Studio at UNL can serve as a model and provide some guidance, he explained, noting that there is no guaranteed outcome with a makerspace.
“You can’t go into it with strong, rigid ideas about what it looks like,” he said. “This is about giving people access.”
Fifty percent of the makerspace memberships at UNL are from the larger community, and other things, like mini-business classes, have sprung from that.
“What if we don’t just do this in Lincoln? What if we create a makerspace network?”
Sidney, McCook and Ravenna are currently exploring the possibility of makerspaces, and another in Whiteclay would capture “makers” in the northwest corner of the state.
There is already a crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds for a Whiteclay Makerspace on Indiegogo, with the goal of raising $127,000.
Gordon City Manager Jacob Sheridan questioned the sustainability of such an effort, however.
“My concern is that we’ve got the cart miles ahead of the horse,” he said, adding that there will be no government support for such a space in unincorporated Whiteclay. “How does the region support this after the people here today go home.”
“That sounds to me like ‘Well, those Indians can’t develop something like this,’” responded Lakota artist Joe Pulliam, who lives in Pine Ridge. “I’ve honed my skills to make a living and support my family … There are hundreds of my people on my reservation trying to do the same thing.”
A makerspace has the potential to help the Lakota, he continued. “The people need to become a part of this. It’s about healing and moving forward.”
After the exchange, Pulliam spoke with Sheridan privately, and the two men shook hands, but the moment prompted Sen. Pansing Brooks to re-iterate the goal of the task force.
“I’m asking you to put down your swords,” she said. “If your vision is for more hatred, more turmoil, then please leave. We can work together to heal this area.”