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Pine Ridge Grocery Store Closed for Selling Relabeled Old Meat

The Sioux Nation Shopping Center, the Pine Ridge Reservation's only grocery store, runs some pretty stale stock photos on its home page:

Sioux Nation Shopping Center screencap
Sioux Nation Shopping Center screencap, 2012.05.16

Maybe I'm just racist, but I get the feeling there might be a disconnect between the Sioux Nation Shopping Center's marketing images and its actual market in Pine Ridge.

The Sioux Nation Shopping Center has also been selling some pretty stale meat. The Indian Health Service shut down the grocery store's meat department on May 4 after several tribal members complained of getting sick from eating the store's meat. Pine Ridge activist Debra White Plume, whose granddaughter is among those who went to the hospital after eating Sioux Nation Shopping Center meat, says the store has been repackaging old meat with new meat and labeling the mixes with new expiration dates.

The store made an effort to restock the meat department with fresh meat last week in time for "food stamp day" on May 10. However, Oglala Sioux Tribe officials shut down the whole store on Friday. The tribe is seeking a restraining order against the store's management, but a hearing scheduled yesterday was cancelled, leaving Pine Ridge residents stuck for a fourth day having to drive to Whiteclay or Rapid City to stock their kitchens.

Cohn Wholesale Fruit and Grocery of San Diego operates the Sioux Nation Shopping Center, which it leases from the tribe. Native News Network reporter and commentator Levi Rikert shouts fraud and wants Cohn out:

The company deserves an "F" for FAILURE.

It has failed a group of consumers, many with limited access to cars, depend on them to buy their monthly food to put on their families' tables. Cohn Wholesale Fruit and Grocery Inc. deserves an F for failure.

Mixing outdated meat with new meat to make hamburger to sell to the Lakota people can be likened to unscrupulous predatory lenders who trap disenfranchised into high interest rates loans with high penalties.

It is nothing short of fraud.

In both cases it is clearly taking advantage of those already disadvantaged. In both cases, it is fraud.

One has to wonder if the operators of the Sioux Nation Shopping Center take the stance:

"They are just a bunch of Indians, so it does not matter what we sell them" [Levi Rickert, "New Operators of Sioux Nation Grocery Store Needed," Native News Network, 2012.05.14].

The pictures on the store website suggest the owners are insensitive to the demographic they serve. The labels on the stale meat they were selling suggest much worse.

As the only grocery store on the reservation, Sioux Nation Shopping Center has a unique responsibility to its extensive community. Sneaking old meat into new packages violates that responsibility. If the charges are borne out, the Oglala Sioux Tribe should strip Cohn Wholesale of its lease and replace store management swiftly to keep Pine Ridge from becoming a complete food desert.

Update 21:48 MDT: KELO's Derek Olson visits Mission and hears good things about the Rosebud Reservation's tribally owned Turtle Creek Crossing. Opened in 2009, the grocery store is succeeding at providing jobs and turning dollars over in the local economy. Hey, Pine Ridge, can you import this business model?


  1. David Newquist 2012.05.16

    This matter appears just part of the long history of treatment of people on the reservations by traders. It is the kind of thing that, in part, sparked the Sioux Uprising of 1862. In making threats to close down the store entirely if there is a violent reaction, the store managers seem to be aware of that history.

    For some reason, things like this that happen to residents of the reservations--such as the story about the alleged mutilation at Rapid City Regional Hospital--never get investigated and explained. In this case, there was at least one report of food-poisoning, but a denial by store personnel of any such reports. No one in authority can seem to verify that report, even thought the Center for Disease Control has developed investigative techniques that track down contaminated eggs, melons, lettuce, etc. And even though it was a complaint to the Indian Health Service that resulted in the inspection--which in most towns restaurants and grocers are subjected to with frequent regularity.

  2. Douglas Wiken 2012.05.16

    I think Cohn may own or supply stores in Winner as well. The practice of adding old meat to fresh meat has happened to me here and almost all customers are white. I don't think racism is needed to explain capitalist disregard for health and safety in the interests of the short-term bottom line. Failure to cook meat.. especially hamburger from any source to 165 degrees or so is an invitation for food poisoning-- whether you are red or white skinned.

  3. larry kurtz 2012.05.16

    Does anyone know whether regulations on the rez prohibit product nearing expiration be cooked and marketed in-store as ready-to-eat?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.16

    Larry, I'd look those rez regs up, but it appears the Oglala Lakota Nation let its web domain expire weekend before last.

    Douglas, it sounds like the corporate world sees all South Dakotans as Indians. Is that meat-mixing in Winner actionable under local or state health rules?

    David, thank you for the reminder that I need to finish reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

  5. WayneB 2012.05.17

    Hrm, when I worked at the (now closed) grocery in Madison, it was pretty common to take the cuts of meat that had 3-4 days left, but already lost their color, and throw them in the hopper to make ground beef... the thing is the hamburger always sold quickly, so risk was lower. My guess is that there's slower turnover at the store in question, and therefore what works in other places didn't work there.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.17

    So that explains that upset stomach I had in July 2001... ;-)

    Wayne, I can understand old Food Pride's position. We throw away a lot of food that's edible but that just doesn't look good on store shelves. But before I cut Cohn's slack for using common practices that work elsewhere, I'd want to see a solid comparison of turnover rates. Given the big deal made of food stamp day, I suppose it could be that a lot of food moves around May 10, but that maybe food sits longer on the shelf during the rest of the month. Could that be the case?

  7. K..B 2012.05.22

    This whole rant that is trying to be passed off as a news article is not only uninformed but blatantly ridiculous. Try doing some actual RESEARCH before wasting your time publishing an article so misinformed.

  8. K..B 2012.05.22

    The HOSPITAL has spoken out repeatedly saying there has not been one single incident of food poisoning. So, there has not been even "one report of food poisoning" as you try to claim.

    Again people, do your RESEARCH to prevent the spread of ignorance!

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