As I thought about a subject for this column, I came to the conclusion I wanted to share a “good news” story that needs to be told. That story is the truly remarkable success of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the tremendous economic and social impact the tribe has on the Siouxland region and continues to have as we move toward the end of 2018.
I am prompted to write about this as a result of my recent selection to the board of directors of the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System, which includes the Twelve Clan Unity hospital. The Twelve Clan Unity hospital is now owned and operated by the Winnebago Tribe since July 1 of this year. Multiple positive changes already have occurred at the hospital as the planned-for full federal recertification of the hospital (lost under Indian Health Service management) moves forward. Highly qualified staff members already have been hired and health care for the Winnebago people and other Native American people is improving on a daily basis.
However, that is just one of many developments that have been occurring in Winnebago over the recent years that have created a dynamic powerhouse of economic development in Siouxland. In order to fully appreciate the nature and extent of this significant contribution to our area, I wish to provide three categories that are the most impressive.
-- First, employment: the current number of people employed as a result of the Winnebago Tribe’s vision and energy can best be understood when broken down among the tribe’s four principal employers in the tri-state area. These are the Winnebago Tribe, the WinnaVegas Casino, Little Priest College and Ho-Chunk Inc. The Winnebago Tribe employs 526 people in programs ranging from the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System to the Human Service Department to Educare for preschoolers, along with many more programs. These jobs are located primarily on the Winnebago Reservation. Second, there is the WinnaVegas casino at Sloan which employs 375 people. Third, there is the Little Priest Tribal College in Winnebago that employs 50 people. And finally, there is Ho-Chunk Inc. that employs 250 individuals in the tri-state region including HCi Construction, Blue Earth marketing, and the Ho-Chunk headquarters office at Winnebago. The total employment number is approximately 1,201, easily making the Winnebago Tribe one of the top eight employers in our area.
-- Second, there are investments made by the tribe. Ho-Chunk Inc. alone has invested millions in the development of housing and commercial property in Winnebago, which includes the Ho-Chunk Village and wonderful, modern housing for the people of Winnebago. The Winnebago Tribe also has put millions into the expansion of WinnaVegas Casino. And just recently, the tribe has obtained a million-dollar grant to build a new Halfway House in Winnebago. Additionally, Ho-Chunk Inc. has invested millions in Sioux City and South Sioux City. These investments include Ho-Chunk Center, Virginia Square and Flatwater Crossing.
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--- And finally, consider the financial impact of these employment figures and investments in Siouxland. People working translates into the buying of goods and services that provides a huge contribution to our local businesses. Furthermore, think about all the supplies and services that are purchased for all of these business entities. Everything from office supplies to heavy equipment and gas for vehicles are necessary for business to function. I certainly am not an expert in economic development, but it is abundantly clear that every dollar invested in this region by Winnebago tribal entities is multiplied in more jobs and more opportunities for everyone in the tri-state area.
People working, families thriving and communities being developed with infrastructure that is both residential and commercial - the Winnebago Tribe is truly one of the economic engines that power Siouxland.
The bold and creative leaders of the Winnebago Tribe have laid the foundation of this success over many generations. In the words of Reuben Snake Jr., one of those great leaders: “Working together nothing can prevent us from achieving our dreams and visions to once again be self-sufficient and economically self-reliant.”
How ironic that a people forced out of their communities in the 19th century and compelled to be moved across Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota has arrived at this level of social and economic development that is admired and celebrated across the United States. I think you will agree that this is a story of “good news” that needs to be told, remembered and honored by all of us.
God bless the Winnebago people.
Next week: Jim Wharton
A Sioux City resident, Jim Rixner is the retired executive director of the Siouxland Mental Health Center, is the current board chairman of the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System and is a former member of the City Council. He and his wife, Bernadette, are the parents of three adult sons and the grandparents of seven.