South Dakota has celebrated Native Americans’ Day since 1990 when it was the first state to establish it as an official state holiday. It was done at the urging of Gov. George S. Mickelson as a part of his “Year of Reconciliation” efforts.
A crowd gathered at Crazy Horse Memorial to celebrate the first Native Americans’ Day. Prayers were 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. Ruth Ziolkowski, the gracious hostess, was presented with a reconciliation award.
Gov. Mickelson spent that year working to form new partnerships with tribes and bridge gaps between Natives and non-Natives. He reactivated the Commission on Indian Affairs and worked with tribes and considered their unique issues and needs. Mickelson called on all races to focus on areas of agreement, which led to successes in tribal tourism, health care and small business development.
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 to meet with presidents and council members to better understand their issues.
Tribal Relations has worked diligently to facilitate partnerships among state agencies and the nine tribes. For instance, we have tax-collection agreements 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.
Tribal Relations holds an annual forum where tribal members can discuss legislative priorities with 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.
We have implemented a tribal parole program with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. As part of the Criminal Justice Initiative of 2013, the program returns parolees to their tribal communities where family and community supports help them remain compliant. This 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 have improved over the last 27 years. It’s normal to have diverse viewpoints and disagreements, but we continue to move in a positive direction. That’s cause for celebration on Monday, which is Native Americans’ Day this year.