After scouting for a prime location, Troy Ferguson grabbed a bright orange post driver and drove the base of a street sign into the ground at the entrance of Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge. He then hammered the street sign, which read Mission Drive, onto another post before attaching it to the base.
"I've done so many now, I'm a pro," joked Ferguson of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Department of Public Safety (OST DPS).
Though Ferguson is a Geographic Information System specialist with the department, he's been tasked with assigning homes 911 addresses and installing hundreds of street signs across the Pine Ridge Reservation. So far, he's installed 301 signs and has 224 more to go.
"Our main focus for this 911 addressing project is for 911 to have a system to get our police officers to calls for service in a quicker way. It cuts down on our response time," Ferguson said. "And, of course, it spins off into a lot of other things."
Those other benefits of the address and street-sign project, Ferguson said, include having the same system as the rest of the state, making it easier to conduct business on the reservation and for residents to receive FedEx and UPS packages. He also said it's possible that South Dakota could adopt a law similar to one in North Dakota that requires voters to have IDs with a formal street address. That law left many Native Americans in that state scrambling to learn their official street address and find appropriate documentation before Tuesday's election.
Ferguson began mapping homes and 911 addresses in 2008 and issuing addresses in 2012. He started installing street signs in 2017 with a $50,000 budget, he said. Each post needs two signs. A five-letter word sign costs $28 while a 14-word sign costs $65, according to a quote sheet.
"Once they get destroyed, stolen, damaged" the department won't replace them due to budget constraints, Ferguson said, adding that one sign has been swiped.
Kimimila Jack, a dispatcher for OST DPS, said the new address system and street signs have made her and police officers' jobs "a lot easier."
When people call 911, she said, their location appears on the screen of the dispatcher and police officer assigned to the call. The computer then guides the officer to the destination.
Callers are now sharing their address and street names with her whereas in the past, Jack said, they would usually describe where they live by using physical landmarks. People used to say "everybody knows where I live," but that's not helpful to staffers who recently moved to the reservation, she said.
Locations without street names also benefit from the street signs because she can guide officers by telling them where their destination is located in relation to a specific sign, Jack said.
Before Denise Brings Him Back, who works in the OST DPS records department, received a street sign this summer, she would have to provide detailed directions on how to find her home.
"We would just tell them where the old CAP (Community Action Program) office used to sit. We're across Loneman School, we're the first turn off before the substation. So, if you get to the substation you have to turn around," she said.
Brings Him Back said her sons are happy because it's easier to write their address when they order video games from the internet. Before, she said, they would have to write out a long description.
Though the signs are only being installed now, they were assigned in 2008 when Ferguson left street maps in the districts' CAP buildings so residents could suggest names.
"What I noticed was in some of the towns they would kind of pick street names of people who are known in the community" like family names and chiefs, Ferguson said.
Other streets were named after what they'd informally been called by locals, he said. The Kyle community decided to name all its streets in Lakota such as Waziyata (north), Wakpala (creek) and Wapiyapi (healing), which is where a health clinic is located.
While the street names and address have been shared with the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS, so far the information hasn't been shared with Google Maps and other websites that could be used to navigate the reservation.
"We don't want someone out there who has bad intentions to use our data to go and harm someone," Ferguson said.
He said he's personally in favor of sharing street names but not addresses with Google. He believes, however, that he would need council approval to do so.
Residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation can learn their 911 address by calling Ferguson at 605-867-8130 or emailing him at email@example.com.