In 1990, South Dakota Governor George Mickelson sought to reconcile some of the challenges faced between the Native and non-Native American citizens in South Dakota. One of his first steps toward this reconciliation was to change the federally recognized Columbus Day holiday to Native American Day in South Dakota. In the 25 years since the change was made, South Dakota has recognized and celebrated Native American Day as a day of tribute to the discovery of this great land and also to reflect on the rich traditions and culture of our state’s Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people.
Celebrating Native American Day reminds us that Christopher Columbus not only encountered a new land, but also a new population of people living on this land – strong people with their own language and way of life. Our state and nation have learned and benefited much from our tribal citizens. For example, Native Americans introduced foods that we still enjoy today, like popcorn, corn, wild rice, pumpkins, jerky, and turnips, just to name a few.
Powwows, like the He Sapa Wacipi Na’Oskate, or Black Hills Powwow, in Rapid City, are one of the best ways people can learn about and experience the talents, crafts, and foods our nation’s first cultures have to offer. Being able to see traditions and values handed down from generation to generation is truly a humbling and enriching experience.
We need to continue our celebration of this important culture and ensure that citizens throughout South Dakota and the United States are able to experience and understand it firsthand, which is why I introduced the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act in the Senate. The NATIVE Act will better integrate Native American tourism into federal tourism efforts to expand tourism opportunities for tribal communities to share their culture with travelers. I am pleased that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed this legislation and look forward to its final passage in the Senate.
As South Dakotans recognize Native American Day, we are once again reminded that there is much to celebrate. This is a day to reflect on past, present, and future relationships and learn from those who have given so much to make this country great.