When Madonna Yawakie grew up on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in northern North Dakota, phone calls were expensive. Calls to the tribal headquarters, just 14 miles away, were considered long distance. Her parents’ typical monthly phone bill was $300.
When she went to work for US West (now CenturyLink) after earning a master’s in community and regional planning, she realized that because many reservations were in rural areas, traditional companies had little interest in improving their serivce – or lowering costs.
The lack of infrastructure was crippling development. Today economic growth on reservations – and access to markets – depends on high-speed internet access. Madonna and her husband, Mel, winner of 2015 AISES Professional Award for Executive Excellence, are empowering tribes to take dramatic strides forward. Since 2001 they’ve owned Minneapolis-based Turtle Island Communications (TICOM), providing technical and engineering services to tribes in the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and Northwest.