October 15, 2012

Lakota casket company

Pine Ridge casket company brings jobs, hope

By Ryan LengerichRoby Cottier always wanted to own a woodworking business, but kick-starting any venture on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is like walking up the down escalator.

He had no assets or collateral, so a loan was a long shot. Two months ago, he had nothing to do but spend afternoons on his couch, eating potato chips. Then something happened. He landed a job—a woodworking job—on the reservation.

Now, though he may not be the owner of his own woodworking business, Cottier, 32, is a foreman at Sioux-Preme Wood Products Co., a wood-casket assembly company that opened last month in Manderson.

The company, owned by a group of investors led by the Wounded Knee Community Development Corp., is a landmark in economic development for a reservation where unemployment is almost 80 percent.

Cottier manages 11 employees who assemble and detail solid-wood caskets for Native and non-Native customers across the Black Hills and surrounding states.

"They all have families," Cottier said of his employees. "You know how that makes me feel? It makes me feel good to know I actually accomplish something. We are making history on the reservation as a business."
The Sioux-Premes: Pine Ridge Start-Up Business Shoots for the Stars

By Stephanie Woodard“This is as big as the moon landing,” said millworker John Romero, speaking of Sioux-Preme Wood Products, in Manderson, South Dakota. “It’s a giant step for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” The start-up firm joins several new enterprises on Pine Ridge, where unemployment tops 80 percent but economic development is slowly gathering steam.

Sioux-Preme opened its doors on September 17 in two century-old schoolhouses that local tradespeople remodeled and in one newly constructed building. Romero is part of an almost entirely Oglala crew of 10 millworkers, three seamstresses, one tailor and other personnel.

The group spent the last few weeks training to make its first product: affordable high-end burial caskets. They’re made of solid Black Hills ponderosa pine, oak or cedar and can be lined with Pendleton blankets or star quilts especially designed by head seamstress Latecia Hernandez. Designs can also be laser-burnt into the wood. The caskets cost from $590 to $2,400, depending on the wood, lining and artwork, and can be delivered locally or shipped from the nearby Rapid City airport.

Eventually, the firm will produce kitchen cabinets, office furniture and more, said general manager Mark St. Pierre, CEO of Wounded Knee Community Development Corporation, a three-year-old nonprofit that is backing the venture.
Comment:  I hope this company isn't doing well because people are dying too often. That would be a mixed blessing at best.

For more on the subject, see Economic Development on Pine Ridge, Lakota Funeral Director, and Native Clans Caskets.

Below:  "Dave Parham of Manderson, left, and Jesse Little Moon of Wounded Knee make a coffin at Sioux-Preme Wood Products in Manderson. Sioux-Preme Wood Products started earlier this year and employs 13 workers." (Aaron Rosenblatt/Rapid City Journal)

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