Making the Lakota Arts and Crafts Industry a More Viable Form of Economic Development for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

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Begay, Faith


Frankenberg, Elizabeth

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The Rosebud Sioux Tribe or Sicangu Lakota Oyate, is one of nine federally recognized Native American tribes in South Dakota. The reservation currently has an 83% unemployment rate. The central question this project aims to answer is how can the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), the organization charged with creating economic opportunities for the Sicangu Oyate people, open up market access to Lakota artists and artisans to create a broader customer base to make the Lakota arts and crafts industry a more viable form of economic development?

The methodology used to answer this question was a mix of qualitative and quantitative research. The reason for high unemployment on South Dakota reservations was first researched to gain a better understanding of problem before looking for the solution. Two major recommendations emerged from this research as a result of recent Native American policy developments that REDCO should consider in the future. In addition, first person interviews were conducted with Native American artists and facilitators to figure out overhead costs, develop pricing schemes and quality metrics, and to learn more about the Native American arts and crafts industry. A number of international case studies were consulted to survey best practices of other indigenous groups focusing on REDCO’s role as a facilitator, the potential utilization of existing capacity like the Turtle Express store located on the Rosebud Reservation, logo and packaging, and website design. Additional economic projects and training workshops that might add value to this project were also explored. The Google Trends tool was used to conduct market and industry research. The South Dakota Tourism Office was interviewed and was helpful in determining the xisting competition REDCO may encounter in South Dakota and promotional events that REDCO might consider being a part of. This promotional information as well as marketing lessons learned from artist and facilitator interviews and international case study research was used to create a marketing plan. The following will describe the major findings that resulted from this research.

The first recommendation this paper makes to increase economic activity on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation is to take advantage of the HEARTH Act and formulating leasing regulations and submitting them to the Department of the Interior for approval so the tribe will be able to lease land on their own without going through the lengthy process of seeking prior approval from DOI. In addition, the tribe should adopt MTSTA to develop uniform commercial codes. Both of these recommendations will help increase private enterprise in Rosebud.

A total of seven high and low-end artists and artisans, were interviewed from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and Blackfeet Tribe. Artists mentioned the difficulty of living on a crafter’s salary, and many had a second job in addition to pursing their craft. For female artists a common constraint mentioned was child-care. Low-end artists sold most of their work through word of mouth and social media. High-end artists sold their work through art shows and galleries. Eight interviews with facilitators, stores that sell Native American arts and crafts, were conducted across South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota specifically from Rapid City, SD; Lower Brule, SD; Shakopee, MN; Browning, MT; Turtle Mountain, ND; and Crow Agency, MT. Two options exist for facilitators, buying the product outright from the artist and then selling it in their store or online, or holding the item on consignment until it sells, giving a percentage of thesale to the artist. The best time for sales are the tourism months, income tax return season, and hunting season. Promoting in-store or online holiday sales was found to be effective. Every facilitator aside from the one, online-only facilitator, said they sold more products in their store than online.

A survey of similar groups throughout the world in Australia, Eastern Caribbean, Kenya, South Africa, and Italy was conducted. The Australian and South African examples show that by acting as a facilitator, REDCO can greatly increase market access for Lakota artists. Case studies from Australia, the Eastern Caribbean, and Kenya noted that providing customers with an authentic experience that does not feel too staged is helpful in boosting sales. This is something REDCO could do at its Turtle Express store since the store is located on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. REDCO could hold a dream catcher-making workshop in or near the store or a tour of traditional plants in the area. Another Australian case study suggests a partnership with organizations off the reservation as potentially being beneficial. Case studies in Australia, Kenya, and Southern Italy, in addition to interviews with facilitators, show that including a story with an item along with the positive social impact purchasing that item will have for that indigenous group, either on the packaging or within the online website description, can have a positive effect on sales. A logo representing that particular indigenous group should also be attached to the product. An Australian example showed that low quality photos of the artwork should be used on a website to prevent unauthorized reproduction. On the website, products should also be organized into product type and include biographies of the artists and organization’s social mission.

REDCO would offer customers products such as moccasins, beaded and quilled earrings, necklaces, pouches, purses barrettes etc., star quilts, powwow regalia, small crafts like mini tipis, painted dolls, dream catchers etc., and paintings drawings, and prints. These items would be available through the online store and through the Turtle Express store on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. To help sales, REDCO could create tourist attractions like a tipi bed and breakfast, create a leather tanning facility, and for those who are not able to commit to the Sinte Gleska University Associate of Arts/Traditional Arts Degree program, REDCO could hold a training workshop for aspiring artists along with training on how to price items.

The Google Trends Tool was used to conduct market and industry analysis. This analysis showed people are more familiar with the word “Sioux” versus “Lakota” and there is likely a viable market for “Sioux” specific art when compared to other highly populated U.S. tribes. The best market for Native American art is within the U.S., however internationally Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, respectively, would likely be the next best markets. Within the U.S., the best markets for Native American art are located in South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, Oklahoma, and Washington State. A list of competitors in South Dakota are located in Appendix D and a map illustrating the location of these competitors in relation to Rosebud is located under Section 9, Competition.

REDCO’s marking plan should include featuring a video of how to do a particular beading stitch for example to attract people interested in Lakota culture to the website. REDCO’s theory of change or social mission should also be included on the website along with artist biographies, a story of the item’s cultural significance or what the artist was thinking when they made the item. REDCO should also consider holding “meet the artist” events to draw more people to the Turtle Express store. REDCO should sponsor several artists to attend events in South Dakota such as the Governor’s Pheasant Hunt, the Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the Northern Plains Indian Art Market, the Red Cloud Indian Art Show, and the Black Hills Powwow to raise recognition of the REDCO online store and its artists.

In regards to pricing schemes, a variety of pricing points for items online and in the store emerged as a good practice from the facilitator interviews. An interview with an accomplished crafter, beader, and artist, Linda Sewell, a Lower Brule Sioux Tribal member, provided quality metrics based on the product type, bead size, stitching used, and quality of material used to give REDCO an idea of what these quality metrics would look like when developing them for this project’s purposes.


Master's project


The Sanford School of Public Policy






Begay, Faith (2015). Making the Lakota Arts and Crafts Industry a More Viable Form of Economic Development for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.