From left, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker and South Dakota’s Tribal Relations Secretary J.R. LaPlante co-sponsored a town hall meeting in Rapid City the evening of Thursday, Nov. 8. A portion of Rapid City’s Native American community was given unfiltered access to the three representatives of their government from local, state and federal levels via the city-organized meeting at the Oyate Center in Lakota Community Homes on the north side.
Kooiker considers town hall meeting a success
Officials hear concerns from Rapid City’s Native community
Story and photo by Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Staff Writer RAPID CITY — Representatives from the city of Rapid City, the state of South Dakota and the federal government gathered Nov. 8 in the Lakota Community Homes neighborhood of Rapid City to hear the concerns of its Native American residents. “Successful race relations require an open dialogue, and that is what we had tonight,” said Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker. “We had an agenda driven by the people who attended, and it allowed for people to bring up what they wanted — which is a must.” The town hall meeting gave residents of the city access to government officials who they otherwise might not have been able to access. The meeting, which was organized by Kooiker, was the 26th of its kind, according to the mayor. In attendance at the meeting were U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, South Dakota’s Tribal Relations Secretary J.R. LaPlante, several Rapid City Council members, representatives from the Rapid City Police Department and about 50 members of Rapid City’s Native American community. The meeting covered a wide range of topics, including issues pertaining to health care, the Tribal Law and Order Act, education and the discussion of several incidents that have occurred in Rapid City in the past few months. Johnson, who is the son of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., spent much of his time advocating for the strengthening of tribal sovereignty through the implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act, which gives tribal courts more leeway in sentencing and prosecution. “We cannot prosecute our way out of the problems on reservations … .We need to find ways to strengthen tribal courts so much of these cases can be handled at the tribal level,” Johnson said. What seemed to be a common theme among those officials in attendance was the desire to take advantage of the forum in order to improve relationships between the Native American community in South Dakota and governments at the city, state and federal levels. “I work hard every day to try and create opportunities like this for dialogue,” said LaPlante. “It is only through times like this where we can resolve our differences and issues.” The meeting began with the introduction of the invited government officials, after which the floor was opened up to the public, allowing for those present to bring issues important to them to the attention of Kooiker, LaPlante and Johnson. Several items were brought up by the community members in attendance, including concerns regarding health care, education and the criminal justice system. “We need to do more of these after the holidays. There are a number of issues that we would like to focus on, and education is one of them,” Kooiker said. In the past, Mayor Kooiker says he has made attempts to reach out to his Native American constituents. However, he feels that town hall meetings like these help to address concerns that go beyond Rapid City. “When we have representatives here it helps our Native American community members ask questions and get feedback on issues that really don’t have much to do with Rapid City government,” he said. “Many things that concern issues at a state and federal level were able to be answered, and that is part of what this was about.” (Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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