Senator John Thune
This November, as people across our country celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month, we reflect on the important contributions made by Native Americans to South Dakota and our nation. The rich traditions of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people are weaved into the fabric of South Dakota’s history, and are a significant part of what makes South Dakota such a unique and special place.
This month we also celebrate and honor our country’s veterans, many of whom are Native Americans, who bravely risked and sacrificed their own lives in defense of freedom. Native Americans have proudly served in our nation’s military since the time of the Revolutionary War; and during World War I and II, many Native American soldiers were integral in helping to transmit secret tactical messages for strategic military operations by using codes built upon their native tribal languages. America and our allies will be forever grateful to our Code Talkers.
While this month is a time to celebrate Native American contributions to culture and traditions, I also believe that National American Indian Heritage Month also gives our nation’s leaders an opportunity to continue to closely examine the issues facing Indian Country today. We must make it a priority to work together to find solutions to improve the quality of life for Native American’s both on and off the reservations.
I have been proud to advocate for legislation throughout my time in the Senate to bring about positive changes to Indian Country. For example, after years of input from tribal community members, the Tribal Law and Order Act, which I cosponsored, was signed into law on July 29, 2010. I also supported the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home-ownership (HEARTH) Act of 2011, which was signed into law on July 30, 2012. This legislation permits tribes to develop their own leasing regulations and, once regulations are approved by the Secretary of the Interior, assume control over the surface site leasing process. Tribes are able to review and approve or disapprove leases faster under this system, enhancing tribal sovereignty and self-governance.Even with these positive accomplishments, there is still much more work to be done on South Dakota’s nine reservations. Improving access to education, health care, and economic opportunity in Indian Country are challenges we still face today. I look forward to continuing to be a strong voice in Washington, D.C., and a partner for our Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations as we seek innovative ways to further prosperity and progress in our tribal communities.