Each October, we celebrate Native Americans’ Day — an opportunity to honor South Dakota’s nine Native American tribes, as well as their heritage, culture, and tradition.
This day is particularly meaningful for me. Ever since I began my career in public service, I’ve worked with tribal chairmen and presidents to create a stronger future for Native American communities. On a few occasions, tribes have presented me with a Star Quilt — a Native American symbol of honor and protection. This is an incredible encouragement, and it motivates me to continue tackling the challenges that confront tribal communities.
We all know that education equips kids with the tools they need for success. But what happens when that isn’t available? Right now, the Oglala Lakota County School District serves 22 communities within 2,000 square miles but operates only from virtual locations.
This fall, I announced a partnership with the Oglala Lakota County school district to build the first physical, public high school on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the first Career and Technical Education (CTE) high school on a reservation in South Dakota. This will have a profound impact on the economic growth of Oglala Lakota County, bolstering the area’s workforce and empowering students with real-life skills that will help them succeed long after graduation.
We’re also confronting the safety challenges Native American women face. More than four in five Native American women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes and are murdered 10 times more often than the national average.
On July 1, a bill became law that will allow us to further raise awareness, collect data, and implement laws to protect indigenous women from trafficking and kidnapping. It paves avenues for us to partner with other states, tribal governments, and law enforcement agencies to bring these women home.
Additionally, I’ve worked extensively with tribal and community leaders to address our statewide meth epidemic. This spring, I held South Dakota’s first State-Tribal Meth Summit that brought together state, federal, and tribal leaders to discuss meth prevention, enforcement, and treatment. At the conference, Chairman Boyd Gourneau of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe said that “meth is literally killing our people. It’s important we talk about it, but it’s more important that we do something about it.”
And we’re doing something about it.
A few weeks after the summit, I hosted 10 tribal leaders at the Governor’s Residence to discuss the action steps we can take to combat meth on reservations. In the days since, one tribe has been awarded a federal grant for $100,000 per year for five years to assist with a component of their Child Protection Program. Two tribal K-9 units are registering to become state-certified — a benefit to both the tribe and state. My team will also be kicking off the most extensive meth awareness campaign South Dakota has ever seen in the coming weeks. We are committed to doing more to continue this open dialogue and keep our communities safe.
I’m proud of the rich tribal heritage that’s woven into South Dakota, and I’m grateful that we set aside a day to recognize that legacy. Take some time this fall to learn more about our State’s rich cultural history and tribal heritage. By learning more about each other and working together to address critical problems, we can truly embrace the meaning of the word Dakota — or ally.