Luke Yellow Robe is a living example that Native Americans can transcend the sense of hopelessness pervading America’s reservations. He grew up on reservations in several states, finally settling in Rapid City.
Yellow Robe had the importance of community service instilled in him at an early age, and it stuck. He began his career as a law enforcement officer with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department. After 11 years of service, he attended the FBI’s National Academy. Graduation from the Academy opened the doors of federal service to Yellow Robe—something he uses to help Native people to this day as an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) expert witness.
Before this, Yellow Robe worked to assist abused children as cultural relations director for Children’s Home Society of Rapid City. His service continued when he joined the South Dakota Community Foundation’s grantmaking committee in the 1990s, focusing on Native-specific nonprofits. Yellow Robe was with the South Dakota Community Foundation until 2003.
“I’ve been a part of organizations that have benefitted from being able to turn to the South Dakota Community Foundation for grants,” Yellow Robe says. “I’ve seen it in motion, and the reaction of an organization when they end up being a recipient for a grant—it’s always a blessing.”
Today, Yellow Robe works as a consultant and motivational speaker at Yellow Robe Consulting firm. “We connect with tribes to provide services at any level through different leadership programs,” Yellow Robe says. “We want to be part of enlightening these communities."
Yellow Robe is currently working on a job creation program designed to give Native Americans skilled employment options with Native-owned and operated businesses on South Dakota reservations. Well-paying, professionally fulfilling jobs are scarce on the reservation, and leaving the reservation isn’t as easy as it sounds. For many, leaving means also leaving family, leaving heritage, and leaving culture.
“At our Native colleges you can get a degree, but are there any jobs in the reservation setting for that skill? Not often,” Yellow Robe notes. “So, many graduates end up not using their education when they return to the reservation. What we’re excited about is forming partnerships with Native American community colleges and creating courses for them so we can offer a direct line into our field of expertise, and employment on the reservation.”
Bringing Native-owned and operated professional-level employment opportunities to our reservations will help keep the best and brightest in the places they’re needed the most. It will also go a long way toward re-establishing hope and pride, which have been sorely missing for so long. It is Yellow Robe’s hope that others will follow in his footsteps in the coming years.
“I want to see my people—Native people—have an opportunity to take care of their families, to have an opportunity to feel good about themselves,” Yellow Robe says. “I’d like to see many more organizations, many more people working together on a common purpose, building harmony so we can be effective at anything we chose to pursue.”