Senator John Thune, Weekly ColumnAs we celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month and pay tribute to the American Indian culture sewn deep into the fabric of American history, it’s important to look toward the future and identify ways we can increase opportunity and strengthen the quality of life for every American Indian, and specifically, how we can reach those goals for American Indians in South Dakota.
I arrived in the Senate earlier this year pledging to work to change the status quo in Indian country. While some tribes around the nation are thriving, South Dakota’s nine tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, as well as many other tribes on the Great Plains, face numerous challenges. I am committed to helping these tribes overcome those challenges by promoting policies that encourage economic and cultural revitalization.
We must look closely at what has worked and improved life on some reservations and find ways to utilize that knowledge and experience to areas where these problems still exist.
I believe many issues in Indian country must be addressed in new and innovative ways. We need the courage and vision to abandon failed practices and find new solutions to old problems. This will not be easy, but it is the only way to move forward and improve the quality of life in Indian country.
In terms of prosperity, I hope to work to alleviate some of the barriers to economic development in remote reservations like those in my state and some of the other plains states.
The reservations in South Dakota are far removed from major market centers and transportation networks. In addition, non-Indian businesses are often hesitant to create jobs in Indian country due to some of the legal and governmental uncertainties that exist on the reservations. I have worked to try to mitigate some of these uncertainties, and I will continue to do so, because I believe it will help to improve economic conditions on the reservations.
Not only must there be economic revitalization, there must also be cultural revitalization in Indian country. American Indians have a rich tradition of encouraging the values of the family, and cultural revitalization must involve this tradition.
Tragically, many American Indian youth face difficult challenges on the reservations in South Dakota and elsewhere, particularly with addiction, suicide, and abuse. Prevention programs addressing these areas need to emphasize the traditional beliefs of the people the programs are serving.
American Indian youth are a prominent demographic feature in South Dakota and elsewhere around the country. According to a recent report from the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, nearly half of our state’s Native American population who live on the reservations are under 24 years of age. This has many important ramifications for South Dakota in both the near and long term, and it is critically important that we make sound cultural and economic policy decisions in that regard.
National American Indian Heritage month is a time to reflect on a treasured history, honor a strong people, and determine how we can secure a bright tomorrow for future generations of American Indians. I look forward to working with tribal leaders to help the Native peoples in my state and around the country achieve the American dream. I am mindful of the words of Chief Joseph who said "Good words do not last long unless they amount to something."
I can assure you that I am committed to working to help bring about positive change in Indian country, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.