Back up to May 19, when the Madison Daily Leader publisher wrote that he was "taken aback" by the allocation of $4.1M in stimulus money to build an airport on the Rosebud reservation:
While there is no question that airports can be considered infrastructure, we question the value of building a new airport on the Rosebud reservation. This is an area that is considered among the poorest parts of the country, where alcoholism and poverty are pervasive, education is substandard and healthcare quality is questioned.
So the best way to spend $4.1 million there is on a new airport? [Jon Hunter, "Does a New Airport at Rosebud Help with Economic Recovery?" Madison Daily Leader, 2009.05.19]
Hunter says the airport money is a waste and would have had more impact if diverted to other infrastructure projects, such as the "schools, detention centers, and roads" the stimulus bill is also building.
Hunter's argument doesn't go over well with a couple of Native American writers. Rosebud Tribal President Rodney M. Bordeaux labels Hunter's editorial "stereotypical, racist, and the kind of polemic that demonstrate the ignorant and uneducated attitudes and animosity against Native Americans that lives on in South Dakota." President Bordeaux hammers Hunter for citing no sources to back his assertions (hyperlinks can be your friend, Jon!).
Now we can go back and forth on whether saying there's poverty and alcoholism on the reservation is racist. Beyond that discussion, Bordeaux argues exactly how a new airport can help address some of the problems Hunter identifies:
Adequate health care for Tribal members is a priority of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. A new airport in Rosebud , South Dakota, would permit the transportation of emergency status patients directly from Rosebud to larger hospitals in either Rapid City, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where there are trauma centers, burn treatment centers, and emergency surgery bays. At the present time the only airport for transporting patients is about 15 miles away from Rosebud, and is not sufficient to meet our needs. There are more than two hundred seventy plus flights a year from our hospital alone!
A fully functioning airport not only provides emergency medical transportation, but can foster economic development in the areas of tourism, hunting and fishing, and other tribal economic development projects. Approximately 150 jobs will be created by this funding [Rodney M. Bordeaux, President, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, "Rosebud Sioux President: Stimulus Will Help Tribe," Indianz.com, 2009.05.27].
Kevin Abourezk, a Rosebud Lakota who reports for the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star and writes a column called Red Clout, says Hunter's editorial "borders on racism."
I would add that Hunter's statements are patronizing, yet further proof of the we-know-what's-best-for-those-poor-ignorant-Indians attitude that so many white leaders in South Dakota demonstrate.
While those leaders constantly fail to do anything to improve the lives of the Indians in their state, they can always be relied upon to criticize tribes for trying to improve their own conditions. When a tribe pursues gaming, those leaders indignantly attack tribal leaders for taking advantage of their own, while failing to offer any other solutions to severe unemployment.
Further, the notion that a tribe has no need for airport access is demeaning at best [Kevin Abourezk, "Criticism over Tribal Airport Borders on Racism," Red Clout, 2009.05.28].
Abourezk argues that improved access to emergency health care for 20,000 tribal residents is plenty of justification for a new airport. One would think that Madison's 6,500 residents, served by their very own municipal airport, would agree.