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ND Tribes took collective approach for progress
Creating the United Tribes Child Development Center
By Cornelius P. Grant, former North Dakota EDA Representative
28 March 2011

      The U.S. Department of Commerce's, Economic Development Administration (EDA) is recognized as the premier community development entity for rural America. The agency did a tremendous amount of work in Indian country from the 1970s through the 1990s by placing particular emphasis on assisting tribal governments and tribal communities.

Cornelius P. Grant

      One tribal project that I am familiar with from the late 1970s, is a daycare facility at United Tribes Technical College. It later became the United Tribes Child Development Center. The project came about as the EDA and the State of North Dakota worked during an economic downturn to create projects that would directly benefit tribes and tribal organizations.


      In 1977 the nation was faced with serious unemployment in the range of 8.5 percent. To stimulate economy activity and create jobs, Congress passed and funded two rounds Local Public Works (LPW) programs. In the initial round, North Dakota received a target allocation of $10 million dollars. Of that amount, 70 percent was to be used for job-creating projects for areas having "persistent unemployment at or above the national rate."

      EDA regional offices were advised of the urgent need to get projects moving. Planning began so adequate funds could be reserved and the necessary construction grants awarded on a timely basis. This took place with the knowledge that unallocated and unused funds could be transferred and used in other regions of the country.

Governor Arthur Link, at right, Grace Link, center, and United Tribes Acting Director Ron Laverdure, at left, at a 1977 United Tribes event.

      In North Dakota, it was quickly determined that the four reservations were the only areas in the state able to justify the unemployment rate criterion. Essentially, the tribes were to receive consideration for the entire 70 percent jobs creation funding, or $7 million. But it called for fast action.

      Tribal Governments were alerted and on-reservation meetings were quickly held to determine priorities and officially notify the EDA Denver office of a number one LPW project. The Three Affiliated Tribes selected a new tribal administration building at New Town. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa chose the Turtle Mountain Manufacturing Company industrial building at Belcourt. Spirit Lake elected to upgrade and pave 20 miles of roads leading to their Fort Totten industrial park. And Standing Rock decided that construction of a new Fort Yates Tribal High School was its most important project. Standing Rock had already bid the project but it had been shelved because bids came in over budget.

      Each of the tribal governments endorsed the overall plan and supported the selections of the other tribes, which expedited the review process. An essential and main attachment to the EDA application was a letter of support from the state governor. That came from North Dakota Governor Arthur A. Link.

      All four projects were funded at a collective cost of over $6.9 million. The rest is history. Each project employed many people in the construction process and, over 30 years later, the facilities continue to be assets in their home communities.

United Tribes Child Development Center


      The second round of the LPW Program contained an even larger allocation for North Dakota. Through a formula introduced by North Dakota U. S. Senator Quentin Burdick, another $30 million came to the state. The regulations called for each county to receive at least one major public works project. Because they had been funded in the initial round of LPW funding, tribes were excluded. The formula also established a Governor's Set-Aside amount of $300,000, an allocation to be made at the discretion of the governor.

      As a non-government entity, United Tribes Educational Technical Center, as it was known then, was deemed ineligible for any LPW funding. Since funding for the individual North Dakota tribes was ineligible in round two, the tribes took a collective approach as joint owners of the technical center. The tribes stood in support of a needed construction project there and focused on the Governor's Set-Aside fund.

      At the time, United Tribes had many, very apparent building needs. One was a multipurpose-student union and recreation facility that could serve as an on-campus activity center and thereby support students and their families. The second was a kindergarten facility for the pre-school aged children of adult students attending the center. Both were sorely needed but, $300,000 would not adequately address the first priority. It was reasoned that it probably would make a good start on phase one of a daycare center.

      As Acting Director of United Tribes, Ron Laverdure was called on by the board to approach the Governor with the idea of funding a United Tribes project. I attended the meeting as the North Dakota EDA Representative. Governor Link asked for a briefing about the EDA and the LPW initiative. Laverdure described the two United Tribes projects, highlighting the daycare with schematics and design sketches from the architect Denby Degan. Governor Link asked about and received assurance that the tribes agreed. He made his commitment to use the set-aside funds on the project and expressed as much in a phone conversation with the EDA Denver office. All that remained was to submit his letter of commitment with the application forms and the United Tribes Child Development Center became a reality.

Governor Link during a round dance, accompanied by Russell Gillette, United Tribes counselor.

      So much that is good and beneficial for the education and development of American Indian youngsters has been accomplished over the intervening years since Governor Link's support of this project. He is remembered as a true friend of United Tribes and Indian people throughout North Dakota.

      As a footnote, several years after the daycare facility was funded, an EDA Public Works Grant was awarded for a major portion of the James Henry Community Gymnasium, the multi-purpose recreation and activity center that was also considered. Progress at United Tribes has been the work of many good hands.

Corn Grant helped create economic development projects and enterprises for tribes and rural areas of North Dakota for over 35 years. He was with the EDA from 1972 to 1996.


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