Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota). Photo from Facebook
While November is a busy time of year among football games, hunting trips, and the approaching holiday season, this month we also pause to reflect on the important contributions of Native Americans to our state and nation. On November 14th, I joined several of my Senate colleagues in introducing a resolution to recognize November as Native American Heritage Month. Since 1990, our country has celebrated Native American Heritage Month to honor and pay tribute to the proud ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. The rich traditions of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota are woven into the fabric of South Dakota’s history, and are a significant part of what makes South Dakota such a unique and special place. In fact, our state name of Dakota is a Native word for “friendly” or “allies.” Native American warriors such as Crazy Horse, Chief Sitting Bull, and Chief Red Cloud, were from the Dakotas and helped to shape the early history of our country. In World War I and World War II, Native American soldiers known as code talkers, used their native languages to send messages to the Allied forces. Code talkers played a critical role in efficiently and securely transmitting messages that enemy forces were not able to decode. These communications were a tremendous benefit to the Allied forces during military combat. Last fall, in Washington, D.C., in a long overdue ceremony, Congress recognized South Dakota’s Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota code talkers by awarding their families and tribes with a Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal is among the highest expressions of appreciation and recognition given by Congress for distinguished achievements and contributions and I was proud to cosponsor legislation to help make this recognition possible. This month is not only a time to celebrate Native American contributions, culture, and traditions, but also provides an opportunity to examine the issues facing Indian Country today. As we work to improve life in Indian Country at all levels of government, we continue to look for innovative solutions to improve education, public safety, access to health care, and economic opportunity on South Dakota’s nine reservations. Though we have achieved legislative successes over the years aimed at addressing these challenges, through strong federal, state, and tribal relationships, we can continue to make improvements to enhance the quality of life for tribal citizens, both on and off the reservations.
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