Opinion | Politics

Jim Kent: Governor of South Dakota blissfully ignorant about tribes






Jim Kent. Photo from Facebook

Governor Lectures Tribes On Financial Responsibility
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Columnist
www.lakotacountrytimes.com

It’s been 200 years since a couple of white men traveled across the country referring to members of the Native American tribes they encountered as “children” and advising them what would be in their best interests for their long-term future.

Of course, we all know how that turned out. But Native Americans remain in spite of a history of subjugation, victimization, abuse, aggression and hatred.

In fact, over the last 50 years Native Americans have not only returned to their culture beliefs and traditions en masse while effecting enormous changes among their people, but many have advanced economically and academically to levels of achievement that would have made the likes of Lewis and Clark stand-by dumbfounded – though both would likely have a difficult time accepting the fact that “they’re” even still here.

It’s a mindset which, despite our arrival to the 21st century, far too many share – the inability or unwillingness to realize and accept that Native American are not only alive and well among us, but are also an active, viable, vital part of their communities and country. And they’re also sovereign nations.

This last characteristic is the hardest to digest – especially for politicians and the powerbrokers who back them. George W. Bush could just about pronounce the word so his inability to define it came as no surprise. Yet, you wouldn’t think someone in the political arena living in a state with 9 reservations and some 70,000 tribal members would be completely ignorant of their presence, history and culture. Think again.


Rosebud Sioux Tribe on YouTube: South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) addresses tribal council meeting April 21, 2016

According to Governor Dennis Daugaard, and by his own seemingly proud admission while sitting before the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council last week, he is that person.

In spite of graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Government from the University of South Dakota and a Juris Doctor degree from Northwestern University, living all but three years of his life in this state, working in a leadership capacity for 19 years with the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota (which involved many Native American children), serving for six years as a state senator and then eight years as Lieutenant Governor, the man sat before a room full of Lakota people and almost gleefully declared: “When I first came into office, I had never heard of trust lands. I was about as ignorant as you could ask for in a non-tribal member.”

Which, naturally, begs the questions: Why? What were you doing for the previous 33 years of your professional life here in South Dakota? And what else are you totally ignorant of that we haven’t been advised of yet?

Moreover, how can anyone - especially the top elected representative of a state – find such social, cultural and historical illiteracy something to boast about?

Apparently, this moment of blatant honesty followed by the advisement of how much he’s learned from his State Tribal Relations Secretaries over the past 5 years was intended to lay the groundwork for how much Daugaard feels he now knows about “all things Native American” – specifically when it comes to trust land and how the tribes should allocate their resources.


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In an odd and seemingly uncomfortable display of physical and emotional awkwardness – continually readjusting and stumbling over his words – the Governor (like a modern day “Great Father” to the Lakota) advised the Sicangu people that the primary reason he objects to placing Pe` Sla – a sacred area of land in the already sacred Black Hills – into trust status is because “Grandma needs housing…food…(and) transportation” so tribal resources shouldn’t be spent on land 200 miles away for religious use or buffalo agricultural use.

That the man had learned nothing about the spiritual and sacred significance of traditional sites from his State Tribal Relations Secretaries over the last 5 years was obvious. That he still didn’t get it – or care to get it – was indicated when he summarily dismissed tribal member Wayne Fredrick’s explanation of their importance.

If there’s one experience neither the Lakota, nor any other Native American people, need to relive it’s the paternalistic attitudes they’ve already endured for two centuries from American politicians and powerbrokers who’ve treated them like children who need to be led by the hand in order to survive instead of as the sovereign nations they are.

If Governor Daugaard has a need to feel paternalistic toward the tribes within the state’s boundaries, perhaps he could begin by ensuring that the Indian Child Welfare Act is enforced – and leave concerns over sacred sites and “Grandma” to the Lakota people.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio journalist who currently lives in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Jim can be heard on a variety of radio programs including National Public Radio, South Dakota Public Radio, and National Native News Radio. He is also a columnist for the Rapid City Journal and a guest columnist for the Lakota Country Times. A former editor of The New Lakota Times, and a correspondent with a variety of Native American newspapers, Jim’s commentaries have appeared in national and international publications including U.S. News & World Report, Bergen Record (NJ), Suburban Trends (NJ), New York Daily News, Roanoke Times (VA), The Observer (OR) and American Heritage Magazine.

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