Food insecurity is prevalent across Indian Country, and many Tribal citizens lack access to affordable, healthy foods. As a result, they must either purchase groceries from convenience stores or take their dollars off-reservation. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate is addressing this problem head-on through a new Tribally-run grocery store called Dakota Crossing. Josh Flute, a Cohort 7 Native Nation Rebuilder, is CEO of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Economic Development Corporation and has been heavily involved with the Dakota Crossing project since 2015.
Flute feels that his experience in the Native Nation Rebuilders Program has had a positive impact on his involvement with the project. He states, “Being a Rebuilder has helped open my eyes on how to build our nation up by asserting ourselves. We don’t need a huge, revolutionary investment; Dakota Crossing is just one small incremental change that we’re creating to increase the self-governance and sustainability of our Tribal community.”
The official ribbon cutting ceremony for Dakota Crossing took place in early October. Now that the store is officially open for business, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate citizens can shop for affordable food locally and directly support their Tribal economy in the process.
“Dakota Crossing addresses multiple needs within our community,” Flute explains. “Most importantly, it stimulates competition to create more fair prices in the market. It creates jobs and helps community members access affordable groceries along with staple foods at better prices.”
Not only does Dakota Crossing bring healthy food access to Tribal citizens, it also allows Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate to streamline and centralize the food procurement process for multiple Tribal entities. There are currently six food distribution companies that deliver food to Tribal entities, such as the casino and schools. While these companies sell the same products, their prices vary drastically. The opening of Dakota Crossing will change the situation for the better, as the store will serve as a watchdog over the companies and a main hub for food distribution to Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate’s various entities.
“Dakota Crossing is just one small incremental change that we’re creating to increase the self-governance and sustainability of our Tribal community.”
– Josh Flute
Flute sees the Dakota Crossing project as an example of nation building in action: “We’re creating jobs, and we’re creating a new tax revenue stream that’s helping to fund our Tribal programs. Essentially, it allows these programs to become more self-sustaining and increases our ability to self-govern.”
Even though Dakota Crossing is now up and running, Flute’s work on the project won’t end anytime soon. “My work has just begun with this project,” he says. “Being a brand-new business, we are trying to develop our market share and assert ourselves in the market.” In addition to overseeing Dakota Crossing’s operations at a high level, Flute plans to start working on adding a shopping plaza next to the store. The plaza will feature Tribally-run entities such as a coffee shop, 24-hour fitness center, and satellite location of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Diabetes Prevention Center, among others. Like the grocery store, Flute envisions that the shopping plaza project will grow the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate economy and encourage Tribal citizens to spend their money locally.