Michael Jandreau grew up listening to his grandparents discuss ways to make a better life for the people of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.
"They always talked about how we could make a better life for everyone if we utilized the resources found within the Reservation in a renewable and sustainable way," he said.
Years later, as Chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, he was instrumental in making his grandparents' dreams a reality by helping start the Lower Brule Farm Corporation in 1977.
"I see the Farm Corporation as a way to provide a level of self-sufficiency and independence for our people that is both profitable and sustainable," Jandreau said.
Beginning with about 1,000 acres of farm ground and a cow/calf herd, in a little more than 30 years the farm has grown to encompass 8,800 irrigated acres of farm land and 30,000 acres of rangeland for the cattle.
The farm is also the foundation of Lakota Foods, the Tribe's value added company. Lakota Foods is a provider of high quality popcorn. For more than a decade, Lakota Foods has sold to major processors like ConAgra Foods and American Popcorn Company. In 2005, Lakota Foods expanded its business model to process, package and market its own Lakota brand of popcorn.
"We've had great support from the community, Farm Board and Tribal Council. I'm proud of the fact that the Good Lord smiled on us, and sent us people who are honest and have integrity to develop a great management team," said Jandreau of the self-sustaining operations which are 100 percent owned and operated by the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Tribe.
The profits from the farm and Lakota Foods supplement the Tribal budget.
"The problems my grandparents saw - lack of housing and job opportunities on the Reservation - still exist today. However, the farm and Lakota Foods are one way that we are working to overcome these problems," Jandreau said.
Jandreau says the Tribe is working to add value to other crops they raise on the farm, like edible beans.
"We are working to hone our marketing capacity and development capacity to create more successful jobs," he said.
Serving as Tribal Chairman for more than 30 years, Jandreau also serves as Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, Agriculture Committee and has been appointed by Secretary Tom Vilsack to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Council for Native American Farming and Ranching.
Jandreau also operates a small cow/calf operation of his own where he and his late wife, Jacqueline, raised their seven children: Rhonda, Michael, Amy, Patrick, Jerauld, Jeffrey, Mary, Kim and Martin. He has 22 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.
Working to ensure that the farm is a sustainable operation for generations to come, Jandreau works closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Natural Resource Conservation Service to establish conservation and range improvement projects. Stock water and cross fencing have been developed on the range permits to improve cattle distribution and provide for a rotational grazing system to improve the range condition. Through these efforts, many wildlife species have benefited - in particular the prairie chicken and sharp-tail grouse.
"Agriculture is a good industry for us to be involved in because of the fact that we can be profitable and preserve the land, our Mother Earth," Jandreau said. "I think this is closer to what we are about as a people than anything else."