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Indians seek funds to boost business

KYLE, S.D. -- Angie Reyes and her husband, Jesus, started selling burritos 11 years ago out of a cooler on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Today, they run La India Bonita Burritos, one of three restaurants in town.

The Reyeses say they have been able to expand their business because of the money and advice they've gotten from the Lakota Fund, a loan program on the reservation.

A campaign to increase the fund by $8 million -- from $2 million to $10 million -- began yesterday. The president of the World Bank, which lends about $20 billion a year to help developing countries, was expected to be there.

Poverty on the Pine Ridge reservation rivals some of the Third World countries with which World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn works: The unemployment rate is 35 percent to 45 percent, and the median income is estimated to be $6,100.

Some of the hardship stems from having few places for the roughly 21,000 residents to spend the estimated $150 million a year from the government.

''We've seen what years and years of federal programming have done, and we need to create the private sector to overcome the devastation," said Karlene R. Hunter, who helps oversee the Lakota Fund. ''We need our reservation to thrive."

Since its inception in 1985, the Lakota Fund has issued more than 500 loans to businesses on the reservation.

To help get their business plans off the ground, Lakota people need money and ongoing expertise to help with marketing and payroll, said Elsie M. Meeks, the fund's executive director and a grocery store owner.

''What we want to do is call attention to the need for capital," Meeks said of the fund-raising effort.

Ongoing support, coupled with the right startup capital and business planning, should give outside investors good reason to consider the Lakota Fund a safe place to put their money, Meeks said.

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