DSC_4907Travel the roads a bit, and you’ll notice that they tend to follow the railroads. And were those railroad surveyors really all that ingenious in their routing? No, the smart railroad surveyors hired native americans to guide them! And didn’t Lewis and Clark have Sacajawea to guide them? As you can imagine, nomadic native americans figured out the best routes, and we’ve been following in their footsteps and wakes ever since.

That natural gearhead talent is still seen today on the Dakota 38+2 Ride of Reconciliation as a whole fleet of horse trailers and support vehicles follow the ride, blizzard or not. As the ride left Pipestone a couple years back one of the Indians noted a low tire on his pickup and I advised him of the local tire repair shop. But he had some feed in this truck that would be needed by the horses at the first rest stop in less than an hour, so he pulled out his tools and plugged and pumped up the tire right there. Couple days later I saw another Indian blind side back a crew cab pickup towing a horse trailer into a narrow driveway, first shot. Got to talking with him and turned out he was his tribe’s chief… The tribe obviously chose well. All this gearhead aptitude comes naturally to a largely low income population that has to keep old vehicles running to travel long distances in the rural areas the Indians were forced into.

Thus it’s no surprise that on just about every rez there’s a prominent shop or even shops that house the tribal DOTs and transit systems. DOTs? Yup, tribes run transportation departments just like counties and states, and design and maintain roads, bridges, docks, and even airports. Their transit systems often serve multiple counties and in some cases multiple states. For example, the Standing Rock reservation straddles the South Dakota/North Dakota border, it’s a hundred miles across, and it’s population of around 10,000 is spread out over dozens of small towns and rural lands. Just running a transit system to serve this area that is 3 or 4 times the size of a big city metro area would be a major accomplishment. But the Standing Rock Transit System provides regular scheduled service to not only Bismark but Fargo, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City over 200 Miles away. That’s not exceptional for native american gearheads… There are tribal DOT’s and transit systems that operate ferries and even air transportation!

Makes you wonder why big manufacturers locate a plant in the big city and complain that they can’t get enough qualified workers, when there are tribal nations populated by native gearheads just a couple hours drive away…