Recently another ill researched article designed to cast unfair scorn on Wakpamni Lake Community’s economic decisions entered circulation.
Titled “The Many Faces of Raycen Raines”, wrote by Brandon Ecoffey, published in the Native Sun News, this article repeats several inaccuracies of an earlier story. In that story, Al Jazeera News furthered the grudge of one person from the Pine Ridge Economic Development Office who has a biased interest in seeing any development outside the ineffective bureaucracy fail. Ecoffey picks up the paparazzi-esque speculation into the character of Raycen Raines and the slander of the Wakpamni Lake Community where Al Jazeera left off.
Yet many people are not taking this narrative of inaccuracies at face value. As the comments on Ecoffey’s article show, local people around Pine Ridge reservation have had positive experiences working with Wakpamni Lake Community and its economic consultant Raycen Raines. Anyone interested should browse these comments to see testimony first hand from the communities these issues affect.
The scrutiny of Raycen Raines and the reservation community he works for is largely hypocritical. There is much corruption around Pine Ridge reservation more deserving of scrutiny than a community trying to revolutionize its economy and the man they have chosen to advise them. Ecoffey himself also seems to be an odd judge of economic decisions on the reservation. Given that Ecoffey’s own economic decisions to sell cocaine and marijuana on the reservation landed him in prison, as anyone could read about in this Rapid City Journal article.
In response to Ecoffey’s article, this letter was sent to the editor of Native Sun News by the president of the Wakpamni Lake Community government. It is printed below in its entirety.
Letter to the Editor Native Sun News
This letter is in response to what we view as unfair and uninformed criticism in an article by Mr. Brandon Ecoffey last week, “The Many Faces of Raycen Raines,” in which our economic development coordinator was personally attacked and our community economic development efforts were misrepresented. The Wakpamni Lake Community was offended by that article. The article assumes that the Wakpamni Lake government has either been duped or isn’t smart enough to make its own governmental judgments about what businesses the Community should be in in order to raise revenues.
The Community is working toward the goal of self-sufficiency. We are pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Our business development efforts are historic, broad-ranging, including business parks, tourism, arts-and-crafts, and even supporting a tribal member’s fashion design business. Some we are just starting some we have been doing for years. Online lending is just one of our enterprises, but an important one that is helping us diversify our economy.
The Wakpamni Lake Community is very traditional and conservative. We are mindful of protecting our sovereignty and creating a sustainable economy for future generations. We are a local governmental subsidiary of the Wakpamni District which is a local governmental subsidiary of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. I wish the paper had done its homework before printing this, it reflects a basic misunderstanding of the Oglala constitution and our Community. These businesses are not Raycen’s private businesses. These are our community government-owned businesses.
We do not blindly go into business deals. Nor do we cede control to individuals or outsiders in any of our businesses. Raycen Raines is a Tribal member, a member of our community and our family. We know his story, we know his lineage, and we see him work hard every day. We trust him. If you have questions, you ask us. None of the board of the Wakpmani Lake Community was contacted for this article. We would only wish all those criticizing out there spent that energy working on our economic development.
Raycen acts at our direction. He works for us. After the Community Board has made our decisions, we give him and others on our team directions on how we would like them to proceed. And we instruct Raycen to seek and bring us new and creative economic development ideas for us to consider. We fully vet any new opportunities. We ask tough questions. We try to understand markets and customers and the employment and income benefits to our community.
With respect to our online consumer lending businesses, we have been cautious. We understand what it is like to not have access to credit from big banks. As it turns out, there is a multi-billion-dollar market in the United States of people who need short-term credit who cannot get traditional bank loans. Much like Indian gaming, whether you like it or not, it is a perfectly legal and legitimate business.
We are not making loans to poor or desperate people. And, specifically, we do not make loans on the Pine Ridge Reservation or anywhere in the state of South Dakota, we run a national online business. Indeed, many might not even qualify for our loans. Short term loan customers are people with jobs, bank accounts, and the ability to repay. They understand that yes, our loans are more expensive than other forms of credit, but those other forms of credit from banks or credit cards might not be available to them. A common short term loan, for example, might be for a single parent who needs a little extra money for school supplies and clothes.
Our customers choose our products for a reason, and are happy to have access to credit rather than face consequences that could be much worse, such as dealing with hospital bill collectors, not fixing their car and losing their job, or any of the bad things that can happen when you have an unanticipated expense and no access to credit to pay for it.
We need repeat customers. We rely on earning repeat business. Often we help customers rebuild their credit rating. It is in our own business’ best interest to treat our customers well. We’re always trying to improve our business, learn more, and grow our businesses to better meet our customers’ needs.
We do not believe our businesses are predatory or “morally questionable” as this article, which was supposedly news and not an opinion, states. But we understand there are differences of opinion, much like Indian gaming, online lending is not everyone’s favorite industry, but they are both perfectly legal businesses and there is significant customer demand for them. If NSN had done a little research, they would have learned that this is a national tribal industry. There are over two dozen tribes in this business. Most are rural and isolated like us. And some predict online lending to possibly become as big as gaming for those tribes who are isolated. For many of the tribes, this has been the only successful economic development project.
It saddens our Community government that there is a rush to judgment by outsiders, who haven’t bothered to call us or learn the facts, who look down on the Community and assume we aren’t smart business people. It saddens our Community that some Lakota take what should be matters to be worked out among relatives, matters for internal discussion and resolution, and air their uninformed views to media and social media, or to try to tear down the people and partners upon whom we rely to help us.
As Indian people, we should be lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. Gossip, negative media interviews, half-baked impeachment of officials – it’s all poison that prevents us from making decisions, having access to capital, doing good, creating sustainable economies, caring for our people, and building our dreams. It’s why people don’t want to do business with us.
My wish, as a Lakota winyan and Wakpamni Lake Community government leader, is that before anyone writes an accusatory newspaper story or post, before they attack each other politically or throw stones, is that they take a deep breath and reflect on the fact that we are all relatives. We all want the best for tiospaye, our community, and the Oyate. People don’t want to help us, don’t want to work with us, because we always tear them down, we assume the worst about them and accept gossip and rumors as truth.
We must chose to give the benefit of the doubt, to assume the best intentions, to speak kindly, and to try to put ourselves humbly in their shoes before disparaging them. We are all related. At Wakpamni Lake, we know this, and we live it proudly.
Geneva Lone Hill
President, Wakpamni Lake Community government