TM Tribal Council, Natural Resources team up to bring brand new butcher shop to the reservation

TM Times News Staff

TMBCI — The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (TMBCI) is proud to announce one of its latest ventures, a place that is sure to provide food sovereignty to the tribal community.

What is food sovereignty?

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.

 This new venture driven by the Turtle Mountain Tribe and its Natural Resources Department will promote food sovereignty to the fullest, but it will also entail so much more.

 Last week tribal government officials and staff members from natural resources announced their big news at a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for the new TMBCI Butcher Shop.

The TMBCI Butcher Shop, which will be located near the sprung structure across from Sky Dancer Casino & Resort, will be a 2,600 square foot facility constructed by Woodstone, Inc. and designed by DSGW Architects, both Native American-owned businesses based out of Minnesota. The butcher shop  will have a small retail area with a meat counter and locally made food products for sale, a meat processing area, and small break room. The site will also provide a drop off area for processing of harvested meat products, a welcoming front porch for events, and a smoking area for processing smoked meats.

 Jeff Desjarlais Jr., director at Turtle Mountain Resources, said he and his department are excited for this new venture. Desjarlais said it’s a world of opportunities for the people here at Turtle Mountain, and a sort of shop that’s been needed for quite some time, especially recently since the Covid-19 pandemic worsened.

“The goals here at the butcher shop are to have a fair market price for our tribal members,” Desjarlais said at last week’s groundbreaking. “We live in a poverty-stricken community and the prices of meat during the pandemic have increased and our people can’t go out and afford to pay 9 or 10 dollars a pound for meat. It’s all about saving our tribal members a few dollars.”

 Desjarlais said his hopes are to have a nice, big display case of meats for tribal members to come in and purchase at reasonable prices. He said the butcher shop will be able put together an assortment of meat bundles, having tribal members call in one minute and have the bundle ready for them just a few shorts minutes after the call.

Desjarlais the butcher shop will feature beef and pork as the prime source of meat cut daily. The shop will not sell wild game over the counter, he said, but they will be able process wild game if tribal members bring in their animal.

“The state won’t put any restrictions on a tribally-run business,” said Desjarlais. “We can’t sell wild game but any tribal members who come in with wild game we’ll be able to get them processed for them.”

The approved budget for the butcher shop is $1 million dollars from Phase I of the Cares Act funding, according to District 1 Councilman Nathan “Puma” Davis, who was instrumental in securing the funding for the butcher shop, as well as having a hand in the planning of this new venture. This projected tied right in to Phase I and the Tribe used its food sovereignty right to utilize the funding for its proposed butcher shop, ultimately bringing a lower price of meat to the Turtle Mountain area during these tough times through this pandemic.

“This is a big moment and a proud moment for me personally, and I think our tribal members should be proud of this as well,” Councilman Davis said of the new TMBCI Butcher Shop. “Over the years I’ve always been involved with helping people live a healthier lifestyle, eating healthier foods and so on. I’ve always been one to help teach my family and friends how to harvest game and how to process game. My brother (Murton) and I were asked to butcher our own pigs and we would teach other people that as well… So for me this is a big moment and our tribe should be proud, too. 

Tribal government and TM Natural Resources is confident the TMBCI Butcher Shop will be a self-sustaining, tribally-owned business not just during the pandemic but for years to come. The two tribal entities did their homework on this project, researching and weighing the pros and cons of having its own tribal butcher shop right here on the reservation, which will be centrally located for all four districts, too. 

Councilman Davis explained, “We’re talking about substantiality and sovereignty and you can’t sustain your way of live or flex your sovereignty if you can’t feed yourself. Being able to create a sustainable market and secondary market to provide our own meat is truly the first step in the foundational building block of kicking off our food sovereignty movement to tie in our local ranchers and local farmers to provide that pipeline supply and build that market with local schools, local restaurants, and our casino to sustain that project so it’s not just a burden on the Tribe moving forward. A lot of secondary thought has went in to this project as far as marketability and substantiality.”

As far as the timeline goes for this project, Mike Laverdure of DSGW Architects and Tom Ollman of Woodstone, Inc. said completion of TMBCI Butcher Shop is happen some time by the end of 2020, most likely in December.

“We’ve got Woodstone Builders on this project which is a construction management firm,” stated Laverdure. “We’re still in the design phase right now but we’re already getting bid packs out on the street for bidding. This will be built out of insulated concrete forms so it will go up fast. Once we start doing the ground work and concrete work this will be up in plenty of time. Our goal and our team’s goal is to have this 100 percent complete by the end of this year. With the size and design and a good construction team I think we’ll do this in plenty of time.”

Tom Ollman of Woodstone, Inc. will be looking to hire a number of tribal members through the tribal TERO office. Ollman said they’re excited to get started on this project, a well-designed facility by Laverdure and DSGW Architects, he said.

“We’re really excited to be part of this project,” Ollman said. “When Mike (Laverdure) called me we were all in. Our goal is to have this butcher shop done by December 31st. We’ll be working with TERO so we’ll have a number of tribal members working on this building which is a good thing and very important to us. We take a lot of pride in that, and the Turtle Mountain Tribe having us work on this project means a lot to us as well.”

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