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Happy Native Americans' Day

October 4, 2018

It’s been 28 years since South Dakota started recognizing the second Monday in October as Native Americans’ Day. In 1990, Governor George Mickelson led the state in a “Year of Reconciliation” with South Dakota’s tribal communities – a fabric of our state’s rich culture and history. To non-South Dakotans, it might seems like a small or trivial change, but by leaving Columbus Day in the past, the state turned an important page and looked entirely toward the future.

South Dakota has been home to some of history’s greatest Native American warriors, including Chief Sitting Bull and Chief Crazy Horse. Today, we’re lucky to have a new generation of tribal leaders who continue to fight day in and day for the communities in which they live.  

Whether I’m in Washington or back home in South Dakota, I often cross paths with folks who share both the successes and challenges they experience within their tribal communities. Their input is critical and helps me pursue policies in Congress that help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs that have a direct effect on their lives.

Thanks to their feedback, I’ve been working for years to reform and modernize the broken Indian Health Service (IHS). IHS is tasked with providing health care to tribal members in South Dakota and around the country – care they depend on, but for far too long has been substandard, an understatement to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many talented and dedicated employees who work at IHS facilities in South Dakota and throughout the Great Plains, but the organization as a whole is so wrought with systemic problems that it hardly deserves the title in which it has been given. The agency can and must do better, and I will continue fighting for change.

I value hearing from members of South Dakota’s Native American tribes and learning about what’s important to them, but I also think it’s good for my colleagues in the Senate to hear their perspective, too.

I recently invited Mona Thompson, the general manager for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority, to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee, which I chair. Her feedback on the progress of broadband deployment in rural parts of South Dakota was honest and helpful, and I’m glad she was willing to make the trip to Washington to share her observations.  

I know I’m not alone in considering myself extremely grateful to live in a state that honors its Native American history and traditions. Whether it’s language, food, or events, the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people have left and are continuing to leave an important mark on South Dakota.

I appreciate all they’ve done for our state and look forward to continuing my partnership with them in the months and years ahead.

Happy Native Americans’ Day!