CHEYENNE RIVER SIOUX TRIBE: Tribal Ventures Voices Research Survey

Real Case Study
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe[1] recognized that Federal census data did not give them the data they needed about their community; so, in 2012, they decided to carry out their own survey. The idea to run their own survey emerged from the idea that “we can’t change what we don’t know.” The survey led to the development of ‘The People’s Plan,’ a blueprint for economic success. The project also made good use of video communications to help explain to the community the needs for the survey and how it could help the Tribe (see links to several short videos in Further Resources below).

The Cheyenne River Sioux have a population of over 8000 members, who live on a reservation of 5,600km2 in South Dakota. The Cheyenne River Voices Research project, or VOICES, was organized by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures in partnership with the Northeast Area Foundation, whose aim is to reduce poverty using data to support decision-making. VOICES was a 10-year project that gathered data at the community level about a range of social, cultural, and economic factors.

The survey was designed by the community, for the community. The survey asked more than 150 questions and was created to ensure that there was solid data about the community to ensure proper decision-making.

It took more than a year to collect data from all participants with a peak of eight surveyors working at a time. The surveyors would visit people in their homes to conduct the survey. It would take between 45 minutes and 2 hours to complete the survey depending on the discussions. To encourage participation in the survey, the organizers used radio, flyers, and word of mouth. They were also able to provide a $20 dollar honorarium for participants, ensuring that almost everyone they approached were interested in engaging.

The VOICES project recognized the potential that multiple households could be living in one house. In these cases, they would interview multiple heads of household. This improved the completeness of their results. In contrast, the Federal census only requires a response from one head of household in each house.

The Cheyenne River Sioux also created a survey focused on youth called the Young Voices survey. The Young Voices survey included more than 700 youth across the reservation to learn more about their thoughts on workforce, education, and future focus.

After conducting the survey and more than 500 hours of community meetings and input from nearly 1,000 people, ‘The People’s Plan’ emerged as a blueprint for economic success on the Cheyenne River reservation as laid out by the residents themselves. The People’s Plan focuses on 12 initiatives that the Cheyenne River Sioux people identified through the surveys and community meetings, and for which the Tribe has now been able to provide resources. The initiatives have a spectrum of focus, ranging from loss of language to lack of childcare.

One of the key initiatives that came from this data was in response to the severe unemployment that the community was facing. The community provided GED tutoring to community members and created day labour programs for those looking for short-term work. The survey results provide baseline data from which to track the effects of these initiatives over time.

For more information on the survey, please see this interview done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis with Eileen Briggs, the Executive Director of the Cheyenne Sioux Valley Tribal Ventures.

Further Resources:


[1] While this is an American example, the needs, approaches, and uses of data are equally relevant in the Canadian Indigenous context.