2017-04-20 / Front Page

Districts Consider Entering Air Ambulance Business


The Air-ambulance industry employs more than 35,000 people and is estimated to have generated around $5 billion last year. The Air-ambulance industry employs more than 35,000 people and is estimated to have generated around $5 billion last year. PINE RIDGE -- Many have argued that the most successful business models on the Oglala Lakota Nation are ones that partner with district governments. That notion is set to be tested as a new and innovative business partnership could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to needy Lakota communities.

Starting this week, presenters from the Crazy Horse Planning Commission will travel to each of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s 9-districts to pitch a plan that could result in each district owning part of a newly formed air-ambulance service.

“I am going to go to each district and give them an opportunity to hear what this is all about and to decide if they want to be a part of it,” said Garfield Steele, Wounded Knee District President.

Steele also serves as President of the Crazy Horse Planning Commission, a coalition of districts governments that works to drive development, said that the opportunity that has presented itself is a no strings attached chance for the districts to become part owners of a major business.

“All of the money for the business is available. The people and the districts will not need to invest a single red penny,” said Steele. “All we have to do is offer our status as Native Americans,” he added.

What Steele means by offering their status as Native American is that the inclusion of district governments will allow for the business to be at least 51% Native American owned. That designation will give the company an inside track on both federal and tribal contracts.

The company that is looking to partner with the districts (that choose to opt in to the venture) is Rural Healthcare Logistics. The company has been represented by Oglala Lakota citizen, David “Tally” Plume.

According to Plume the company had attempted to get its foot in the door with Oglala Sioux Tribe since 2007. However, like many ventures, the complexities of tribal politics may have prevented the company from signing a final deal with the tribe.

“At this time working with the districts was the most feasible option we had for advancing development of this kind,” said Plume.

He was able to confirm that district governments would not be asked to carry any financial risk as investors are lined up and ready to be operation within 90-days.

“Should anything go wrong, each district will not be liable for any financial costs,” said Plume, who works as the Executive President of New Markets for the company.

Indian Health Service did have an existing contract with Dale Aviation, but that contract ended at the start of the year. Since then it is estimated that nearly $3-million dollars has been spent by the Pine Ridge Hospital on transports alone.

To help defray some of these costs and in the interest of saving lives, Rural Healthcare Logistics has committed to building landing zones in every district.

Plume says that the opportunity for districts is enticing because the air-ambulance service would be able to bill both the federal government and private insurers each time a patient utilizes the service. This revenue will then be reinvested back in to the communities as profits will not leave the reservation like they have in the past.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has paved the way for district governments to embark on ventures of this nature as a result of tribal ordinance 12- 17. The law allows for district bodies to create businesses that are separate from the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s central government. It also provides protections for tribal citizens from legal actions and attacks on sovereignty as a result of incurred debt. On Pine Ridge, each of the 9 districts have an established government that has the authority to create its own legislation impacting residents.

The Air-ambulance industry employs more than 35,000 people and is estimated to have generated around $5 billion last year.

Presentation schedule

Wounded Knee District April 17th

Lacreek District April 18th

Wakpamni District April 19th

Pine Ridge District April 23rd

Porcupine District April 23rd

Oglala District April 24th

Eagle Nest District April 25th

*Eagle Nest District voted to opt-in to the project on April 11th.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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