For those that don’t know me, my name is Clay Colombe and I am an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I grew up on Rosebud and have been REDCO’s CFO since 2017. Earlier this month, I took over the role of REDCO’s CEO and it is a great honor and very humbling to be entrusted with that responsibility.
First, I’d like to thank and acknowledge my predecessor, Wizipan “Wizi” Little Elk. For most of us, Wizi is synonymous with REDCO. When he took over the CEO position ten years ago, REDCO was in deep financial trouble and had only a few employees, if that. Wizi had – and still has – the unique ability to both create a vision and also lay out the steps required to reach that vision. I am grateful that I’ve been able to learn under his leadership and am honored to be able to lead our amazing team – now over 60 employees – into the next phase of REDCO.
Along with the amazing recent growth of REDCO, there have been challenges and setbacks. Among those challenges has been maintaining consistent communication with our constituents: you, the Sicangu Lakota Oyate. We have been so focused on expanding our work, that there have been times when we have failed to inform community members about our progress or in inviting them to get involved or share their ideas. As CEO, improving our communication with our community will be one of my top priorities and this letter is a first step.
Another priority of mine – which is taken directly from Wizi’s leadership – is to push our team to lean into our Lakota identity and continue to come up with solutions that are uniquely Lakota. We have taken what the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Constitution says about making decisions in the best interest of the next Seven Generations and built that into our work. We call that 7Gen. This has been especially evident in a few projects that we have launched over the past couple years:
Wakanyeja Tokeyachi Wounspe Tipi – It’s clear that our economy is directly tied to education outcomes, but we believe our economy and wealth is also tied to our language and culture. In 2020, we opened the doors to a Lakota immersion school – the first of its kind on Rosebud – and we are committed to continuing to grow and expand our reach each year.
Wolakota Buffalo Range – As Lakota, we are buffalo people. Buffalo were the cornerstone of our food system, housing, economy, and spiritual life for generations. We believe – as have many before us – that the buffalo must continue to be present in our society. That is why we started Wolakota, which is now the largest Native-managed herd in the world. As the next phase, we are committed to maximizing the community impact of this project through increased access to bison meat, cultural and educational offerings, and additional job creation.
Lakolya Waoniya – As I alluded to, our true wealth as Indigenous people is our culture, and we cannot have our language without our culture. Last year we announced that we will be paying seven Sicangu citizens a full-time salary for three years so that they can dedicate themselves to becoming fluent Lakota speakers and immerse themselves in our traditions and ceremonies. The first learners will begin the program in 2022, and our team is committed to sustaining the program to increase the number of fluent Lakota speakers.
In addition to these initiatives, we have also vastly expanded our food sovereignty work. Many of you have seen our growing operation at the Keya Wakpala Community Garden and Greenhouse and visited with relatives at our seasonal farmers’ and mobile markets. You may have even attended a cooking or skillsharing class that we have hosted. What you may not know is that we also manage 1,800 organic acres of cropland. When you combine all of that with the Wolakota Buffalo Range, we are poised to make significant change in the food system here on Rosebud.
Finance is another area of growth and untapped potential within our ecosystem and is an especially strong passion of mine given my financial background. Tatanka Funds is our emerging community development financial institution and currently offers classes in homeownership and financial literacy. As CEO, I look forward to building on what they have started and increasing access to loans for local businesses and entrepreneurs. We want to become the go-to place for Sicangu citizens who want to start or expand their business.
Speaking of small business, alongside our community work we also operate several businesses that employ and provide services to tribal citizens. Among those businesses are:
Sicangu Propane - propane sales and services on and near the Rosebud Reservation, and recreational propane sales across the region
Rosebud Facilities Management - janitorial and facility support services, as well as professional anti-viral disinfection
Rosebud Office Solutions - sales and services for any small business need
Rosebud Construction, Inc. - a full-service design and build construction company with teams based in Rosebud and Rapid City
The profits from those businesses allow us to pursue our efforts in community development, including language and cultural revitalization. On top of that, 20% of the profits from REDCO subsidiaries are given back to the Tribe as a dividend to support essential government services that support our youth and elders.
The final project that makes me excited to take on this new role is Keya Wakpala Woicageyapi (Turtle Creek Regenerative Development). You may have seen the designs for the homes – which are on track for groundbreaking this year – but those homes are just the beginning. The full plan encompasses nearly 600-acres includes areas for recreation, additional businesses, and even more housing.
As you can see, we have a lot to be excited about over the next few years and an even bigger vision beyond that. To my fellow citizens of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, I humbly request two things from you:
Waonsila – Have compassion for REDCO and our team. I can’t possibly say enough good things about our team. I see that the people that I work with each day – from our construction workers, to our finance team, to our managers – want what’s best for the Sicangu Oyate and are pouring their heart and soul into this work. I am grateful for that and I hope that you are too.
Woohitika – We all have a vision for our Sicangu Nation. We all have ideas about how to create a better future, but we are often afraid of failure and taking risks. The journey that we are on to create a better world for our relatives Seven Generations from now requires bold action and bravery. I encourage you to use your unique strengths and gifts to take action for yourself and the Oyate. That could mean starting a business, teaching a skill, or maybe even joining our REDCO team… anything that is creating a better world for the next Seven Generations.
Together we can build a better future. Together we can be truly sovereign. Together we are 7Gen.
CEO, Rosebud Economic Developm