Riders carry the flags of the United States and the State of South Dakota during a Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. Photo: Daren Jessip

Tim Giago: South Dakota continues to ignore history with annual buffalo roundup

Notes from Indian Country

Gov. Daugaard needs to learn South Dakota history
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kiciji – Stands Up For Them)

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) writes occasional columns for the state-wide newspapers. He never sends a copy for us at Native Sun News Today to publish because it appears he believes that South Dakota’s Indian population isn’t interested in the functions of state government or maybe it because he writes things that are apparently of no interest to us.

On Saturday he started his latest column for our local daily with, “On Friday morning, Sept. 29, a few dozen cowboys will put on their boots and saddle their horses. Custer State Park employees will arise before dawn. And thousands from across the state, country and world will gather, all to continue a 52-year tradition.”

The Governor is of course referring to the annual Buffalo Roundup held at Custer State Park and if he knew his history he would know that rounding up the buffalo is an event that has taken place in South Dakota for thousands of years, not just 52.

And in his next paragraph the Governor had a perfect opportunity to explain a part of America’s history that does not appear in its history books, but being a white South Dakotan first, he totally ignored this factual history. He wrote, “At one time, there were about 60 million buffalo roaming North America, but that number fell to fewer than 2,000 in the early twentieth century.” Why did nearly 60 million buffalo stop roaming North America?

If Daugaard had taken us back to the early 20th century he would have told us about the hundreds of thousands of buffalo carcasses lying on the ground all across the Plains and the herds of 60 million were systematically destroyed in order for the United States to conquer a people. He would have written about how the buffalo was everything to the Plains Indians. It was their food, their shelter, their clothing, their tools and above all else, their spirituality or religion as the white man calls it.

Without the buffalo the government knew they could bring the tribes of the Plains to their knees through starvation. And so the beautiful buffalo, the brothers and sisters to the Sioux, Blackfeet, Crow, Ponca and other Tribes was destroyed.

Slowly the population of the buffalo has grown and at the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup a herd of about 1,300 will be herded and rounded up. It is hard to stomach the fact that a “few dozen cowboys” will be doing the job that Native Americans did for thousands of years. And to add insult to injury, for more than 5 years I have been imploring the Custer State Park Service to include Native American riders in the roundup.

This year I thought I had finally made a breakthrough. On August 11, I spoke with Lydia Austin, Interpretive Programs Manager for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and was assured by her that the next week at their board meeting she would bring up my request to the full board. It never happened. As I did in the past I told her that if there were Sioux warriors dressed in their traditional regalia allowed to participate in the roundup, it would bring thousands of more visitors to the Black Hills from all around the world. And it would have opened a door to reconciliation. It is apparent that there are no members of the SDGF and P with any historical vision of what was and what can be. I think most of their board, past and present, has been living inside Wind Cave for the past century.

Any Grade B Hollywood movie director can envision such a wonderful historic sight of Native Americans riding into the herd of buffalo as they did in Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves. Are there no people in the Parks Service with any vision? Of course, DWW also showed the carcasses of the buffalo spread across the plains as they lay slaughtered by the white man to destroy the Indian.

The Roundup will never bring a sense of true history to South Dakota until the original people are allowed to participate. Lydia Austin knew of my request, promised to take it to the board meeting, and then promptly forgot about it. Gov. Daugaard needs to study the history of the state he serves and not write columns that blatantly distorts that history.

So once again I am totally disappointed that such a simple request can be overlooked and denied. Let the Sioux warriors ride in the roundup. The buffalo is still a sacred animal to them.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com