Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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In the past few years, the standard of living seems to be slowly improving on the reservation, but like so many other people in America, the Potawatomi are finding out it takes two in a family to make a decent living such as one person was able to maintain before.

Call it inflation or modern times, but certainly the times have changed.

Hard data is still hard to come by to give an accurate measurement of true progress, but judging by the number of cars going toward the highway at 7 a.m. to work in nearby towns, and given the large work force in the federally funded programs on the reservation, few Potawatomi are without jobs.

Despite some estimates of unemployment of up to 60 percent, most able-bodied men are getting out and working someplace. While finding work at acceptable pay will always be a challenge, the problem is softened by the many women in the tribe who are going to work every day to make the difference.

Working couples are just like everywhere else: working harder, longer but no longer getting ahead. Their paychecks don't go up much, or even go down, while the cost of everything goes up and up and up.

People on the reservation are enlightened enough to realize that getting out and working is the only way to make ends meet and to enjoy a few material benefits. It is without a doubt that modern times and the cost of living have changed the economic picture on the reservation.

Which brings us to an interesting point.

All of the income on or off the reservation is spent in the local communities. The tribe has no grocery store, convenience store, bank or gas station.

So, this necessitates going into town, whether it be Holton or Topeka, to buy cars or get to work, gas and oil for that car, groceries for the home and every other conceivable good needed to live from day to day.

When a washer or dryer, television set, car or air conditioner needs repairs, most Potawatomi take the item into town or a serviceman comes to the reservation to fix the problem.

When homes need propane, roof repairs, window repair or replacement, the goods are purchased or delivered to the reservation.

This extends to the tribal programs, too. The tribe has to buy computers, office supplies, telephone service, consulting services, auditing services and just about every other expense in the local communities.

That means someone other than Indians are benefiting from the income made by tribal members. It doesn't take an economist to figure out that all the money is going off the reservation and very little is staying on.

Capital improvements, job creation, economic development have always been a problem for every reservation.

Until the day comes when the tribes can figure out a way to come up with a true economic development plan, then we will always see the money leaving the reservation and all the improvements happening off the reservation.

A plan to keep some of the money on the reservation is one answer to improving the infrastructure on the reservation, but the solutions and answers aren't the sole responsibility of the tribe.

Until the day comes when more Indian entrepreneurs take a chance on starting a business on the reservation, the situation will remain like it has for the last 150 years.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, September 27, 1995

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