Cante Heart, Rosebud Sioux and Winnebago, is running for public office in Rapid City, South Dakota. Courtesy photo

'Vote with your heart': Native woman seeks voice on city council

By Acee Agoyo

Calling on fellow residents to "vote with your heart," a Native woman is seeking to make history in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Native Americans make up more than 11 percent of the population in the city, located in the sacred Black Hills. Yet many feel no one represents them in local government.

Cante Heart, a Native mother, college student and community organizer, is hoping to change that. She announced her candidacy for Ward 5 on the city council on Tuesday, after rallying residents and collecting enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

“We are all blessed to live in the Black Hills, one of the most beautiful and sacred places on Earth," said Heart, who is Rosebud Sioux and Winnebago. "Only together, will we fulfill the ideals of dignity, integrity, wellness, and prosperity for all.”

We were honored to testify in support of Senate Bill 164 to establish procedures for the investigation of certain...

Posted by Cante Heart on Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Cante Heart, far left, appears at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre in March 2019 to testify in support of a bill to address missing and murdered indigenous people.

Dignity for all is a common theme for Heart, which is fitting because she served as one of the models for the "Dignity" statue along the Missouri River in South Dakota. She's carried that vision to her efforts in Rapid City, working with organizations like the Lakota People’s Law Project and helping raise awareness of issues like missing and murdered indigenous women in He Sapa, the Lakota name for the Black Hills.

Her advocacy also includes speaking out against a new anti-panhandling ordinance in Rapid City that many feel discriminates against Native residents. She told members of the council earlier this month that they didn't have the best interests of their residents at heart.

"I want you to know that indigenous people on these streets are not homeless people," Heart said at the city council meeting on March 4. "They are houseless people. These are their homelands."

"I believe this ordinance and how you’re going about it, is not the way to end homelessness," she said. "These are people in crisis and I think they need resources. They need help.”

The new law isn't the only issue of concern in the Native community. Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender has put the Human Relations Commission on hold, meaning it can no longer investigate complaints of discrimination in a place long known for its questionable treatment of tribal citizens.

< Despite the troubling history, the city in recent years has made it even harder for residents to submit complaints. The commission hasn't met since Allender's decision last October.

These developments are prompting Native activists to seek stronger representation in their local government. And Heart isn't the only one stepping up -- Natalie Stites Means, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is also seeking to make history in Rapid City.

Means this week announced her campaign for mayor, hoping to be the first Native woman in the city's highest-elected post. She looking to unseat Allender, who previously questioned why someone was charged for spilling beer on young Native students. He is seeking a third term in office.

"I’m certified as a candidate for the mayor of Rapid City," Means wrote in a celebratory post on social media on Monday.

Posted by Natalie Stites Means for Rapid City Mayor on Monday, March 25, 2019
Natalie Stites Means poses with the signatures she turned in as part of her run for mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota.

In order to participate in 2019 municipal election in Rapid City, residents must register to vote by May 20. The election takes place June 4, with any necessary run-offs scheduled for June 25.

In Ward 5 on the city council, Heart is challenging incumbent Darla Drew.

The mayor's term historically has been three years. Whoever wins the election will serve four years in the post.

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