Unemployment on Native American reservations in South Dakota remains stubbornly high, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Tuesday, in part because of the "tremendous turmoil" in tribal government.
Daugaard, speaking at the Morning Fill Up discussion session at The Garage in Rapid City, delved into problems on the state's reservations after the session's moderator, Matthew P. Ehlman, asked him to explain why, in a state with a very low unemployment rate, several counties have large numbers of unemployed people.
The counties suffering the high unemployment rates are those with Native American reservations, Daugaard said, noting that in many facets, the reservations are not required to follow the ordinary governmental practices of the non-reservation communities.
"It's like they are their own states, in a way," Daugaard said of the reservations.
For instance, he said, if a crime is committed on a reservation, a county sheriff would not be able to investigate the crime or arrest a suspect; federal authorities, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the FBI, would step in.
Because of reservation standards and practices that are different from that in other communities in the state, Daugaard said, "Most of the investment capital in South Dakota stays away from the reservations."
Developers are reluctant to build on reservations because they're uncertain that they will be able to sell what they build, and banks are reluctant to lend for projects on reservations because they are not certain they will be able to foreclose if necessary, he said.
Without such economic activity, the unemployment rates remain high on reservations, Daugaard said.
The statistics show a stark distinction between counties that have reservations and those that do not. The statewide unemployment rate for August was 3.7 percent, and the counties of Custer, Pennington, Lawrence and Meade all had better rates than the state, according to government agencies. None of those counties has a Native American reservation.
But Oglala Lakota County, the home of most of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, had a 16.4 percent unemployment rate. Todd County, home to the Rosebud Indian Reservation, had 9.6 percent unemployment. Other counties with the presence of large Native American reservations had unemployment rates ranging from 6 percent to 19.5 percent.
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"Government in Indian country has a history of volatility," Daugaard said, and he used the example of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's suspension of its then-President Bryan Brewer in 2014. Brewer eventually was reinstated as president.
Some tribes have even more volatile changes in leadership, Daugaard said.
Daugaard said his "biggest hope" is that education of young Native Americans can lead to more consistency in tribal governments.
Much of the hour-long session focused not on government matters or politics, but rather on Daugaard's history and experiences.
Daugaard spoke about his family, once referring to a recent landmark achieved by a grandson, Henry.
"He peed in the potty," Daugaard said, prompting laughter from the 100-plus people in the audience.
In response to an Ehlman question about South Dakota's spirit of philanthropy and volunteerism, Daugaard recalled his six years in Chicago as a bank executive.
In Chicago, he said, "You don't have this sense of community because you don't know anyone. ... I didn't look people in the eye because I thought, 'I'm not going to know them.'"
By contrast, in South Dakota, "You walk down the street and think, 'I'll see somebody I know," he said. "We know the people we work with, shop with, play with, and we want to take care of them."