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Closing Tribal Connection Gap: SD Reservations Get Internet Funds


Last updated 5/24/2022 at 8:05pm

Closing Tribal Connection Gap: SD Reservations Get Internet Funds

Mike Moen, Public News Service

Many parts of the U.S. still have gaps in accessing high-speed internet. Those gaps are more prevalent on tribal lands, and a new round of grants aims to add connections to Indigenous communities in ten states, including South Dakota. Comments from Sherry Johnson, education director, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (oh-ee-YAH-tay) Tribe, Lake Traverse Reservation.

Native American communities say the pandemic severely limited their ability to communicate with the rest of the world and each other, largely because of internet access issues. But new grant money will help some areas improve service, including three South Dakota reservations. The federal government says 77-million dollars will be shared among tribal governments in ten states, to be used for things like new equipment and creating affordable internet service programs. Sherry Johnson, education director for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, says many local students weren't able to be fully connected with teachers when schools were shutdown.

She says reading and math scores saw declines. But with this funding, the roughly 700 homes on the Lake Traverse Reservation will get more reliable service, and schools will be equipped with devices like Chromebooks. Johnson says that puts families in a better position for future distance-learning scenarios.

Johnson says some homes already have service, but the bandwidth is low. Adding to the dilemma is a large land ridge that runs through the reservation.

She says they'll be able to buy more equipment to counteract those signal disruptions. The community will see other connection gaps addressed, including telehealth. The two other grantees in South Dakota are the Cheyenne River and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribes. The Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows tribal areas trail the rest of the nation by 21-percentage points when it comes to homes with internet service.


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