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BBC Profiles Karen Workers at Huron Turkey Plant

Last updated on 2015.01.24

It's –7°F in Huron this morning. Who'd give up tropical sunshine for weather like that?

Political refugees from Burma/Myanmar, that's who. The Karen people are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia. About 50,000 have come to America to escape political oppression and forced labor at the hands of the Burmese military dictatorship.

About 1,600 to 1,800* of those Karen refugees have settled in Huron. The BBC mobile bureau offers this video snapshot of the Karen workers at Dakota Provisions in Huron:

According to BBC's Anna Bressanin's report, Karen immigrants make up 61% of the workforce at Dakota Provisions and 9% of the workforce in Beadle County. (In November 2014, there were 9,495 jobs in Beadle County; 9% of that is 855.) That majority-Karen workforce kills and processes 21,000 turkeys a day. About 500 of their kids attend Huron public schools.

Bressanin's report is snapshot, not in-depth report. She finds one grouchy neighbor, Larry Benston, who complains that the Karen living next door (both sides!) don't communicate at all with him and his fellow Anglo retiree-neighbors. One house has over twenty people living in it, and Benston says they killed a hog in their back yard.

Whether you're proud of South Dakota as a beacon of freedom and $12/hour employment for political refugees or are annoyed that your town is less Anglo than it used to be, remember: the Karen influx is brought to you by the EB-5 visa investment program, the economic development initiative that was pivotal in keeping Jeff Sveen's turkey plant running.

Seven below—nice day to be inside a nice warm turkey plant.

*Update 2015.01.24 10:07 CST: The Greater Huron Development Corporation, in its November 2014 application for a state Community Incentives Matching Program Grant, says the local Karen population is about 2,500.


  1. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    "Whether you're proud of South Dakota as a beacon of freedom and $12/hour employment for political refugees or are annoyed that your town is less Anglo than it used to be, remember: the Karen influx is brought to you by the EB-5 visa investment program"

    That is right Cory, these people are going from one form of corrupt communism to another. (communism = planned economy)

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.05

    Mr. Sibson's point is well taken. Of course, our new Karen neighbors would likely say the big difference is that their new corrupt communist overlords aren't shooting them.

  3. Jenny 2015.01.05

    Sibby, would you have any taxes in Sibbieland government? Who would pay for the roads? Would there be a 911 emergency system, or would it just be God's will?

  4. Jenny 2015.01.05

    God help these poor refugees that moved in to racist SD. I haven't watched the film yet, Cory, but I'll tell you a few things. New immigrants are very leery of talking to Americans, and it's human nature to stick together in your own clan. Usually if I make an attempt to get to know them and introduce them to my family, they are friendly after that. I've met many, many refugees and immigrants in MN and the far more majority of them were full of gratitude after I made the first move to welcome them. The neighbors I have come over with their native dishes and our kids have played together and whenever I see them they wave and say hi. Show some hospitality- it works wonders.

  5. jerry 2015.01.05

    The biggest question to the grouch in Huron would be this, who has not killed a pig in the backyard, dug a hole, put the pig inside, covered it up and built a big ass fire over it. Invite a few of your pals over with some brew and party on dude. At least mister grouch knows they are not Muslim or Jewish.

    Pork, it's whats for barbecue, brought to you by pork producers everywhere!

  6. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    Cory, I believe it a mistake to use a narrow definition. The "planned economy" was based on the Soviet system. If you idea of free money for everyone becomes a reality, then there will have to be force used to get people to work. Is it too late to turn around?

  7. Jenny 2015.01.05

    Sounds good to me, Jerry! Hog roasts are fun!

  8. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    "God help these poor refugees that moved in to racist SD."

    Jenny, you are right. As Cory pointed out, their kids are going to public schools learning how to hate whites.

  9. Jenny 2015.01.05

    Just answer my question about your ideal government, Sibster.

  10. mike from iowa 2015.01.05

    Although these groups share many cultural traits and traditions, their languages are for the most part mutually unintelligible.
    The Karen speak several different dialects of Karen. 70% of Karen refugees speak Sgaw Karen, 7% speak Pwo Karen, and the others speak either Karenni or Pa-o/ Taung Su. Sgaw and Pwo do not differ significantly in word root or structure, but differ in pronunciation so that a refugee who speaks one will not necessarily understand the other.

    These people should fit right alongside wingnuts as far as unintelligible language is concerned.

  11. Nick Nemec 2015.01.05

    Good grief Sib, public schools are now teaching kids to hate whites? Just how deep is that rathole you've crawled into?

  12. larry kurtz 2015.01.05

    Nick, it's the Common Core history standards on the evils of slavery and science curricula on global warming that Sibby is calling upon to fuel his anger.

  13. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    Jenny, I am not promoting "my government". I am simply stating that the original Constitution has been destroyed and we are now implementing a Soviet styled system, which is controlled by the world's wealthy and elites. I no linger believe we can fix that, as it is fulfilling Biblical prophecy. My purpose is to help the indoctrinated to understand that they are being deceived. Most, including those working at the turkey plant, don't know that they are slaves.

  14. WayneF 2015.01.05

    I was a high school teacher in Huron until I retired in June 2014. I had the privilege of working with several Karen students and their families. This is a warm, interesting cultural group who have brought many good things to our schools and our communities. One young man (whom I saw again just this morning when I visited my former school) had never lived in Burma/Mayanmar ... only in refugee camps in Thailand. In spite of all the misfortune he and his culture have endured, he has a remarkably positive attitude, a keen sense of humor, and a can-do attitude about learning English and adapting to South Dakota culture and weather. In my view, Huron is a better place because of the influx of the Karen!

  15. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    "public schools are now teaching kids to hate whites?"

    Good grief Nick, most of the commenters that frequent this blog are proof.

  16. Jim 2015.01.05

    Sibs, are they teaching the white kids to hate whites also?

  17. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    Yes Jim, especially their white parents.

  18. jerry 2015.01.05

    Interesting to note that there seems to be plenty of government involvement in the red state here for projects that barrister Sveen and the rest of the overlords are entitled to, but no Medicaid Expansion for the rest of the workers here. I would wonder this, who takes care of the health insurance for Sveen's fiefdom's employees? How much of a government subsidy is received by the city of Huron and the county for the influx of these workers? In the meantime, Aberdeen sits and sits with empty buildings both commercial and residential for the workers who will not come.

  19. JeniW 2015.01.05

    The KKK is alive and well in Mitchell, SD. Another reason not to stop there.

    First we read about how we need to avoid stopping in Mitchell because of the measles epidemic. Now, we need avoid Mitchell because the citizens there are teaching hatred in the classrooms and at Cabela's, Happy Chef, the Corn Palace and who knows where else.

    Too bad, I used to like to shop at Cabela's and add to the Mitchell economy.... those days are done now. LOL LOL

  20. jerry 2015.01.05

    Thanks to Madville, the BBC and Al Jazerra-America, we can get some news about South Dakota and the rest of the world. What is in our airways from the rest, is just clutter talk with little substance. I for one appreciate and support our Cory here for all the hard work he does and for the product he produces.

  21. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    JeniW, the white hatred movement is nation wide. It is particularly strong in the community of Madville.

  22. jerry 2015.01.05

    This should be the hate we all can put our arms around. The hate of war. This hate bought these folks here to South Dakota. We Americans support that with much gusto so here is another part of our reward for doing so. It is the gift that keeps on giving so why are we surprised that these are the results. Good news though, just when you thought the Iraq war was over, surprise..It ain't.. It is now Iraq 2.0 or 3.0 depends on the what and when you begin your count.

    "The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill passed this month authorized $64 billion for the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and other countries. Obama has asked Congress to authorize the wars in Iraq and Syria. Last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed, and a final Senate vote is expected early next year."

    Can you just imagine what a billion bucks would do for the economy in South Dakota? Add that billion onto the billion from Medicaid Expansion so teachers, infrastructure, health for all. Talk about a home run, that would be just splendid.

    Barrister Sveen and the rest will have more workers for their needs. I just don't know how he is gonna convince people that they can hire refugees from the Mid East with our religious climate here.

  23. JeniW 2015.01.05

    No, hatred starts at its source, in this case it is the citizens of Mitchell, SD.

  24. Bill Fleming 2015.01.05

    Sibby, how much – if any – of the info on this link squares with your world view and your "white hatred" premise? :

    Seems to me that at one time or another, I've heard you parrot most of it pretty much word for word.

    Here's the thing. As a circumstance of birth and via my continuing choice of home location, I've been pretty much surrounded by "white" community and family all my life. And I can tell you without reservation that I don't hate any of them, nor was I ever taught in my home, my church or my various schools to do so. So your assertion is demonstrably false (at least in my case.)

    I therefore suspect that your position here – as with so many other negative assertions you make – is purely a matter of psychological projection, and once again urge you to seek psychiatric help (medicine and analysis) for your clearly sociopathic condition.

  25. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    "hatred starts at its source"

    The Cultural Neo-Marxists.

  26. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    Fleming, you have eyes, but cannot see. Your denials are irrelevant. I have said there is one race...the human race. That is the Biblical view. See Genesis. There is no supreme race. Salvation is NOT based on the color of ones skin. Pigment is irrelevant. Sad that the political left makes as big of deal out of it as do the white supremacists. Perhaps even a bigger deal.

    Sadly, you guys are helping out the capitalists by fostering the concept of "political" refugees. Politics is a game of deception.

  27. Jenny 2015.01.05

    I found it! Sibby suffers from biblical narcissism. Biblical narcissism is a lack of understanding and empathy towards others and it is usually trauma-based. The individual has trouble making connections with others and hides behind the walls of the bible.

  28. JeniW 2015.01.05

    Steve S., you are the one who wrote that hatred is being taught to students. That would mean in the teachers at the Mitchell schools are teaching it as well.

    You wrote: "Yes Jim, especially their white parents." In response to the question "Sibs, are they teaching the white kids to hate whites also?"

    Since you know that hatred is being taught in the Mitchell schools and you do not do anything about it, you are enabling it to happen.

    On the other hand, you might have grounds to file a discrimination lawsuit against the Mitchell School District for their teaching hatred toward any ethnic group, including whites.

  29. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    "On the other hand, you might have grounds to file a discrimination lawsuit against the Mitchell School District for their teaching hatred toward any ethnic group, including whites."

    JeniW, based the on the theology of the New Agers, only whites can be racists. Whites are not "special class" when applying federal discrimination laws. That is why I am making the charge that pubic education is teaching white hatred by telling colors they are being oppressed. Ever research "white privilege" education?

  30. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    Jenny, thanks for fulfilling a Biblical prophesy.

  31. Jenny 2015.01.05

    Sibby, you don't realize it, but you're abusing the bible.

  32. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    Jenny, you are abusing Biblical Christians. Thanks again for helping confirm Biblical prophesy.

  33. Lynn 2015.01.05

    The story of the Karen remind me of when we had an immigration from Vietnam and Laos here to South Dakota. My parents made an extra effort to befriend and help out these new neighbors and it was great going over to their house and enjoying their company, hanging out playing games with kids my age and the incredible meals. One time I was in the garage and saw a huge hog hanging upside down from the rafters of their garage but I knew that was going into those incredible springrolls they would make. Yum! Those kids are all doing really well now. The USA was the land of opportunity to them.

    Good for Huron and best wishes to those in the Karen community!

  34. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    "Larry Benston, who complains that the Karen living next door (both sides!) don't communicate at all with him and his fellow Anglo retiree-neighbors."

    So what was the reason for God to do this:

    That is why it was called Babel --because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:9

    And could reversing what God did at the Tower of Babel be a problem?

  35. Jana 2015.01.05

    Does anyone know if the cost of adding ESL classes/teachers was a part of the States EB5 program or if Sveen is helping to pay for that?

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.05

    Wayne, thank you for sharing your real, local perspective about those persevering kids. I'm sure they find Sibby's abstract moanings incomprehensible and irrelevant to their experience.

  37. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.05

    Mike, fascinating language notes! I'd think those different language branches could complicate ESL planning. Do those different language groups segregate culturally when they emigrate?

  38. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.05

    Jana, interesting ESL funding question. EB-5 had nothing to do with funding anything other than the Governor's favored business pals and Bollen's pockets. However, the 2013 economic development reform package included funding for ESL classes. In October 2014, Huron Supt. Terry Nebelsick told KELO that Huron now gets $590K from the state, which covers three fourths of the district's ESL costs. I suppose that one could argue that the taxes Jeff Sveen's turkey plant generates help pay that ESL bill... but it's more likely that we are subsidizing the language training costs for his business.

  39. JeniW 2015.01.05

    Steve S., I do not care about New Agers etc. Discrimination is against the law.

    You are claiming that the teachers in schools are teaching students to hate people with white/pale skin. That is against the law and can be used as a lawsuit.

    You are claiming that all public schools are teaching students to hate people based on their skin color, which means that the teachers in Mitchell are doing so too.

    If you are unwilling to file a lawsuit based on discrimination, you can file a lawsuit on the basis that the Mitchell school teachers are sending hate messages.

    If you are not willing to file a lawsuit, then you need to address the school board. If you are not willing to do that, you are enabling the teachers to teach hatred.

  40. larry kurtz 2015.01.05

    Think how much is going into the Future Fund so GOP cronies get their kickbacks.

  41. Nick Nemec 2015.01.05

    When Cory teaches French to a class of teenage English speakers is he attempting to reverse what God wrought at the Tower of Babel? And is that good or bad? Only Sibby knows for sure.

  42. bearcreekbat 2015.01.05

    I have made several efforts to reason with Sibby. Unfortunately, my entreaties have received responses that appears to be arguments based on magical thinking or possibly prevarications rather than reason, logic or historical facts.

    I have given up engaging him and have concluded that Sibby is one of those persons who, in the words of Christopher Hichens, “wish to live their lives under a cradle-to-grave divine supervision; a permanent surveillance and [around the clock] monitoring [a celestial North Korea]. . . .” (note - the bracketed comments are those of Salon's Jeffrey Taylor). Sibby certainly holds a perfectly permissible world view and goal, although it is one that I cannot in good faith adopt or endorse, due to the dangers it holds for humanity and the lack of compassion it has for our fellow human beings, regardless of their religions, non-religions or other beliefs. That is not to say my view is better than Sibby's views, we just disagree about the value of our fellow humans in this world.

  43. grudznick 2015.01.05

    Mr. Sibby thinks his view is better than yours, Mr. bearcreekbat. You might want to consider, given that he is insaner than most, advocating more strongly for your view.

  44. larry kurtz 2015.01.05

    Sibby makes Bibi and Dan Lederman look sane.

  45. bearcreekbat 2015.01.05

    grudz, Why should I think that valuing other human beings is better than dismissing them as people who have ears but cannot hear or eyes that cannot see? Sibby certainly has many people who agree with his views that other humans with different views than his are the trash of the Godly world he understands. What makes my own view that all human beings have value better than than Sibby's apparent view the view that people who see things differently than Sibby are worth anything in this material world?

  46. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.05

    BCB, I have a simple answer to your question about why your viewpoint is better:

    Because I agree with you! What more do you need to know? Hahaha!

  47. Steve Sibson 2015.01.05

    BCB, sorry I can't agree with a worldview that says there is no god, so that we all can be as gods.

  48. Bill Fleming 2015.01.06

    So I'm guessing Sibby's not exactly fond of Google Translate. ;-)

  49. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.06

    Bearcreekbat, I'm sorry your appeals to logic and evidence are falling on deaf ears. If I could help, I would. But some thread-digressions are better left alone.

  50. Steve Sibson 2015.01.06

    Cory, my last comment goes to you also. And it is very enlightening to see female ELCA so-called pastors siding with you two.

  51. tara volesky 2015.01.06

    The Turkey plant should be unionized which would help eliminate the exploitation of the Karen people. With all the millions the Turkey Plant has received from EB5 visas and corporate welfare, you would think Huron officials wouldn't have to run to Pierre every year and beg for money. Let the CEO's pay for the Karen's English Teachers. Maybe the Chief of Police that got fired knows a little more than what people on the blogs read. It they ever decide to unionize, they will be run out of town and a new batch will be transferred in. Greedy Corporations is the reason we're losing the middle class.

  52. Tim 2015.01.06

    tara, in a right to work state? What good would that do, get them all fired? That will sure show those greedy corporations won't it?

  53. Bill Fleming 2015.01.06

    Cory, I thought the EB5 investment here was relatively optional, no? The turkey plant was already a going concern, and the jobs were already there. That's what allowed Bollen to virtually guarantee the investors they would get their permanent visas. So, did the Karen immigrants come along with the EB5 financing, or were they already working there? Do you know?

  54. tara volesky 2015.01.06

    Tim, that is why I made that statement, unionizing is not an option because SD is a right to work state. They tried unionizing with the Mexicans, and their jobs were all threatened. You can't win with the laws we have. The deck is stacked against the working slug. Could that be why we are right at the bottom for low pay. Well, Tim at least you have to agree with SD being a Plutocracy, and the rich benefit through crony capitalism. They can do it with are one party system.

  55. tara volesky 2015.01.06

    Bill, first they had Mexicans, than Hmongs, and now Kerans. They got EB5 money after the plant was up and running.

  56. Steve Sibson 2015.01.06

    Bill, same is true for the beef plant. Many, if not most, of the new jobs went to immigrants, not South Dakotans. We are all being played as fools if we believe economic development programs are good for "us".

  57. tara volesky 2015.01.06

    Huron thrived back in the 60's and 70's when armors paid Huron people union wages at $13 dollars an hour, plus full benefits with retirement. They eventually broke the union and brought in slave labor at $7.00 an hour, but they got millions of dollars from the state to expand and fill their pockets.

  58. Bill Fleming 2015.01.06

    Well, I'm not anti-immigrant, so I don't see anything wrong with people from other countries finding employment opportunities in our state or even having our state play a part in creating those opportunities. But to pretend that the program created jobs for South Dakotans when it was primarily an immigrant jobs program strikes me a being a little 'bait and switchey.'

  59. Steve Sibson 2015.01.06

    Bill, the point is that South Dakota's government spending has escalated and at the same time, teacher pay and road repair are being neglected. Sad that most don't know where all that extra money is going. One place is creating jobs for outsiders via welfare to corporatists. If you study South Dakota's Budget, you also will find the Department of Social Services to be the fastest growing department. How much of that is going to support the outsiders who are cheap labor for the corporatists? Yes, both corporate welfare and social welfare benefit the ruling elites.

    And the overall benefit to the corporatists must be substantial as they can afford to put millions into Rounds and Daugaard campaigns.

  60. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.06

    Tara—full unionization of our big EB-5 employers! That's a good idea! How do we make that happen?

  61. tara volesky 2015.01.07

    First of all, the Karens don't understand unions and most do not speak English. If they tried to unionize, they would be gone and new bunch of Karens would be bussed in. Maybe the Legislature should make the Turkey Plant pay for the English, second language teachers. The Governor and our Legislature protects big corporations.

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