Since 1990, South Dakota has celebrated Native Americans’ Day. We were the first in the nation to establish Native Americans’ Day as an official state holiday, done at the urging of Gov. George S. Mickelson as a part of his “Year of Reconciliation” efforts.
A crowd of South Dakotans gathered at Crazy Horse Memorial to celebrate the state’s first Native Americans’ Day. There were prayers offered by the Keeper of the Sacred Pipe of the Sioux Nation and an Episcopalian bishop, the Sioux Anthem and Star Spangled Banner were sung, and speeches were given by Oglala Sioux Tribe President Harold Salway and Gov. Mickelson. Also at the event, Ruth Ziolkowski, the gracious hostess of the celebration, was presented with a reconciliation award.
This event was just one of the highlights of the Year of Reconciliation. Gov. Mickelson spent those months trying to form new partnerships with tribes and bridge gaps between Natives and non-Natives. He reactivated the Commission on Indian Affairs and put in the effort to work directly with individual tribes and consider each tribe’s unique issues and needs. Mickelson called on South Dakotans of all races to focus on areas of agreement, which led to successes in tribal tourism, health care and small business development.
Throughout my time in office, I have tried to mirror some of Gov. Mickelson’s efforts. In 2011, I established the Department of Tribal Relations as a cabinet-level agency within state government. Every year, Tribal Secretary Steve Emery and I schedule tribal visits so we can meet with tribal presidents and council members to better understand the specific issues affecting each tribe.
In the last few years, Tribal Relations has worked diligently to facilitate partnerships among state agencies and the nine tribes. For instance, we have tax collection agreements with eight tribes and gaming compacts with eight tribes. In 2016 and 2017, the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks signed cooperative Memorandums of Understanding with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe to improve communication and management of wildlife and lands. And the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has dedicated millions of dollars for the operation and maintenance of tribal drinking water systems.
Legislatively, Tribal Relations holds an annual forum where tribal members are able to discuss their legislative priorities with current state legislators. I also signed a bill allowing for the exemption of elected tribal leaders from having to register as a lobbyist in order to testify or lobby for or against legislation.
On the corrections front, we have implemented a tribal parole program with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate that has been very successful. As part of the Criminal Justice Initiative of 2013, the program returns parolees to their tribal communities where family and community supports help parolees remain compliant. This joint supervision program has resulted in higher parole completion rates, fewer instances of absconding and culturally relevant support systems for parolees returning home.
Relations between the tribes and the State of South Dakota have improved over the last 27 years. It’s normal to have diverse viewpoints and some disagreements, but we continue to move in a positive direction. That’s cause for celebration this Native Americans’ Day.