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OST group seeks right for citizens to vote on tribal constitutional changes

After debating just how grassroots a nearly two-year-long constitutional reform effort was, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted Monday to table the decision on whether or not to let citizens vote on the proposed amendments.

The 12-8 decision in favor of tabling the decision and sending it back to the Law and Order Committee came after nearly 3½ hours of debate during a special council session at the Little Wound School in Kyle.

Supporters of the constitutional reform task force had hoped two-thirds of the council would have voted in favor of allowing a special mail-in election where voters would approve or reject each of the 50 proposed amendments.

If the Law and Order Committee kills the vote, or if it approves it but the council later kills it, the vote could still take place if one-third of eligible voters sign a petition asking for it to happen, said Nakina Mills, a Pine Ridge representative and member of the task force. But a vote approved by petition would mean voters would have to either approve or reject all 50 amendments, she said.

Amendments include forming an elder council, changing council terms from two to four years, creating term limits, giving more power to district-level government, creating educational requirements for council members, and forming a new He Sapa or Rapid City-area district so OST citizens who live there can vote. 

Since its creation in 1936, the OST constitution has been amended four times, most recently in 2008. Supporters of the task force said the current constitutional reform effort is a historic grassroots achievement since the amendments were suggested by the people rather than council members.

“What’s different this time” is the ideas came from “relatives in the community,” not council members, Valentina Merdanian, task force member and Oglala representative, told the council. “For many of the people it was the first time they’ve seen the constitution.” We asked, “what should we change, what do you think needs to be improved?”

“We involved the communities, the students from the high schools, college centers, our elders that have knowledge of the treaties,” Jackie Siers, a Wakpamni representative and task force member told the Journal. “It all came from the people.”

The task force was created May 2017 by the tribal council after being initiated in the Law and Order Committee, Robin Tapio, a task force member and Pine Ridge representative, told the council. The task force created a website, Facebook page, held informational and brainstorming meetings throughout the reservation and in Rapid City, and hosted weekly open meetings for people with questions in the council chambers, the members said.

The task force then turned the most common suggestions into 50 proposed amendments, which were drafted with the help of an attorney from the Native American Rights Fund, Siers told the Journal. 

The effort was funded by the tribe as well as $60,000 from the Native Governance Center, task force members said. Mills told the council that 2,743 people out of 40,801 enrolled members — 19,989 of whom live on the reservation — were engaged and 3,300 people have signed a petition calling for a citizens vote on the amendments.

The amendments are about “going back to our traditional form of government that we used to have” by making it more democratic and grassroots, Mills told the Journal.

“It’s an interesting possible solution for the younger generations,” Jake Yellow Horse, a 56-year-old from Oglala, said of the proposed amendments. Yellow Horse said he’s excited about the proposal to create an elder council, staggered council terms and changing council terms from two to four years. “Nothing gets done” with two-year terms, he said.

But opponents said the constitutional reform movement wasn’t truly a grassroots effort. The task force should have been run by everyday citizens, not council members, said Phillip Good Crow, Porcupine representative.

“I do want to see reform happen” but don’t want the council involved, President Julian Bear Runner told the council. “I want this to be given back to the people.”

Bear Runner said before he ran for president, he attended a presentation on the reform efforts and signed the petition in favor of holding a vote. But he said he was “made” to sign it before the presentation even began. He also critiqued a task force member for posting on Facebook during the meeting and another one who he said didn’t respect his spirituality.

Some opponents also said they hadn’t seen the proposed amendments before today, questioned certain proposals and said they want the tribe’s lawyer to review the proposed amendments before turning them over to the people.

Lydia Bear Killer, Pass Creek representative, said the proposed amendments don’t do enough to protect Lakota land, while Bear Runner said the requirement that members of the elder council speak Lakota is unfair since some lost the ability to do so due to being forced to attend boarding schools. Bear Runner cited a citizen who said she was concerned about the education requirement since their ancestors didn’t have formal education and some people still struggle to get one today.

Canupa Amani, a 61-year-old from Pine Ridge, said he wished the proposals were written in a more informal and traditional way, rather than in a formal style molded after white-led governments.

The council did not announce when the Law and Order committee will vote on the whether or not to approve a citizen’s vote on the proposed amendments.

This article has been corrected to name the correct organization that gave the $60,000 to the task force for its outreach efforts.

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Black Hills National Cemetery expands
Black Hills National Cemetery gains 181 acres

The Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis should be able to accommodate veterans and their families for the next 100 years after the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration recently acquired 181 acres for expansion.

The land acquisition was announced April 11. Before that, the cemetery consisted of 105.90 acres, 96 percent of which is already developed. The Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the Department of the Interior, transferred the land to the VA in accordance with Public Law 115-175, the Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act, which was signed into law in 2018.  

"Expanding Black Hills National Cemetery will ensure access to dignified ... burial options to veterans and their families well into the future,” said Randy Reeves, Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs. “We will continue to establish new national cemeteries while maintaining existing national cemeteries, with the goal of providing 95 percent of veterans with access to a burial option in a VA national, state or tribal veterans cemetery within 75 miles of their home.”

More than 29,000 veterans, spouses and eligible family members are interred at Black Hills National Cemetery. The cemetery's notable residents include Ellsworth Air Force Base namesake Brigadier Gen. Richard E. Ellsworth, Sen. Francis H. Case, and Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Charles Windolph.

The Black Hills National Cemetery also is the final resting place for the only two Lakota Code Talkers buried in VA national cemeteries, John Bear King and Clarence Eugene Wolf Guts. Both served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and both posthumously received the Congressional Silver Medal. 

Burial in Black Hills National Cemetery or other VA national cemeteries is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. A veteran's spouse, widow or widower, minor dependent children and under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial.  Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the veteran. Members of the reserve components of the armed forces might also be eligible for burial. 

The VA operates 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. The VA also provides headstones, markers or medallions to veterans who are not buried in national cemeteries to commemorate their service. 

PHOTOS: Flags for Fallen Vets

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Stevens robotics team headed to world championship

Six students from Rapid City Stevens High School will depart for Louisville, Ky., this evening to compete in the VEX Robotics Championship.

The tournament draws teams of students from more than 40 different countries each year. Stevens students previously qualified for it in 2017 and last year attended the national-level games.

“It’s a pretty special privilege" said Ian Helgeson, a Stevens senior and member of the team. "It’s only 520 teams out of the entire world that get to go, so it’s really cool to be able to do this.”

Each of the three VEX teams at Stevens began working on their own robots in September. Helgeson estimates about 100 hours of work is poured into each team's machine, which themselves can go through multiple design and build iterations. They are generally made from parts comparable to those available in commercial erector sets.

Teams from different schools are randomly matched together and compete against other so-called alliances where points are awarded for their robot's ability to complete different task. The theme and nature of the tasks change each year.

Participating in VEX, said Stevens teacher and team coach Jason Reub, not only serves as an application for science and mathematics concepts but as a chance for students to develop team-building skills as well.

"We get to meet people from all over the world," Reub said.

The team headed for Louisville, Reub said, collected about $9,000 from donations and fundraisers this year. They netted about 30 sponsors, he said, ranging from Black Hills Orthopedic and Spine Center to Coca-Cola.

For placing at a state-level tournament, the students qualified to compete in Thursday and Friday's preliminary rounds. They will be competing for a spot in the final round scheduled for Saturday.

"I think we’re definitely going to be able to compete against the best of them,” Helgeson said.

Stevens extends class time to make up for snow days; other schools won't make up days

While most Rapid City Area Schools will not be required to make up their snow days, Stevens High School will be catching up on lost time by extending each class period by three to four minutes.

Stevens will stick to the modified schedule for the remainder of the year, school officials said Monday. As a result, school will let out 10 minutes later and lunch will be shortened by 10 minutes. The changes will affect only Stevens students, who will not be required to make up snow days wholesale.

State law requires that students in grades six through 12 receive a minimum of 962.5 hours of schooling each year. School Spokesperson Katy Urban said Stevens is eight hours short of that mark.

The district has shut down for the day seven times this year due to snow, Urban said.

Urban said school closures affected Stevens more than other schools due to its schedule of eight periods that includes a lunch. Central High School, by comparison, utilizes block scheduling that Urban said reduces lag time between classes.

School at Central also begins at 8 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than at Stevens.

Administrators are recommending that the teacher year be extended across the district to account for the snow days, a decision that the school board could vote on at a later date.

PHOTOS: Rapid City digs out from bomb cyclone