Senator John ThuneSouth Dakota's nine Sioux tribes are rightfully proud of their culture, heritage, and traditions. The tribal presence in South Dakota is one of the things that make our state truly unique.
It is, however, no secret that there are some difficult challenges facing South Dakota's tribes today. In many parts of Indian Country, education and health care services do not meet the needs of the people, and economic opportunity is severely limited. There is also the ugly reality of high violent crime rates, which for many jeopardize their hopes for a brighter future.
Last summer, I hosted a roundtable meeting, which was attended by the leaders of all nine of South Dakota's Sioux tribes. We had the opportunity to discuss many issues of great importance in Indian Country, but no challenge was more on the minds of the tribal chairmen than improving public safety. I came away from this meeting with many valuable suggestions for what could be done at the federal level to empower the tribes to fight crime and restore basic safety on the reservations.
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has been particularly plagued by violence, with an astonishingly high crime rate. Very recently, there were only a handful of law enforcement officers protecting a swath of land in both North and South Dakota that is twice the size of Rhode Island.
Along with tribal leaders and others, I urged the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop "Operation Dakota Peacekeeper," a surge of law enforcement officers on Standing Rock to combat violent crime. Operation Dakota Peacekeeper began earlier this month, and the results can already be seen today. Nevertheless, there is still much work to do.
I have also led efforts to empower tribal courts and to expand the ability of U.S. Attorneys to prosecute violent crimes in Indian Country. This month, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing on a draft bill aimed at fighting crime on America's reservations. I am asking tribal leaders, state officials, and other stakeholders to offer their input on this bill, so that it might be truly reflective of the needs of South Dakota's tribes.
I believe that South Dakota's Sioux tribes can have a brighter future, which will begin with making tribal communities safer. Children should be able to go to school without fear of violence or drugs, and businesses should be able to grow and create jobs in safe communities. As always, I look forward to working with tribal leaders, other tribal officials, and tribal members to make this shared vision a reality.