South Dakota Sen. Billie Sutton (D), a candidate for governor, addresses the Fort Randall Casino Indian Day Celebration Wacipi, hosted by the Yankton Sioux Tribe in Lake Andes, South Dakota, on June 24, 2017. Photo: Billie Sutton

Native Sun News Today: Candidate promotes ties to tribes in South Dakota

From bustin’ broncs to politics

Billie Sutton challenges Kristi Noem for governor
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

PIERRE – As Senator Billie Sutton (D) campaigns for the gubernatorial race in South Dakota, he met with Native Sun News Today discuss his life, his politics and his campaign for governor.

Senator Sutton was born and raised in Burke, as a fifth generation South Dakotan on his mother’s side of the family and a fourth generation resident on his father’s side.

His family has been a part of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe community for generations, as his mother grew up in that area and his grandmother taught kindergarten in Eagle Butte for nearly fifty years. This multi-generational South Dakota family has been entwined in Native American culture and the senator believes those values have enriched his family’s lives.

Senator Sutton is paralyzed from the waist down. It was an accident at a college rodeo which left him with a disability; a disability which has not left him disabled.

“I fell in love with rodeo at a very young age. I grew up on our family ranch; both my mom and dad rodeo’d. I grew up around horses and cows and fell in love with the sport of rodeo,” he said of his farm and ranch rearing.

His rodeo career began before he was in elementary school. Said Sutton, “I started radioing around the age of five years old at some junior rodeos in Nebraska. And then through 4H and high school rodeos. I had a very successful high school rodeo career. I was second in the nation in saddle bronc riding at the national high school finals as a senior.”

Through his athletic ability on horses and in the rodeo, Senator Sutton was able to earn a full-ride scholarship at the University of Wyoming on their rodeo team. UW was attended by his sisters and mother as well. He initially studied sports medicine, before eventually changing his studies to business finance after his first year.

During his time at the University of Wyoming, Senator Sutton had qualified for the college finals all four years of his collegiate rodeo career. He also performed in professional rodeos at this time, which according to the senator was a unique experience.

Tragically, Senator Sutton was injured on October 4, 2007.

“I was set to graduate from college in 2007 and Oct. 4 of 2007 when I was at the Badlands circuit finals in Minot, ND, and had drawn the horse called Ruby of Sutton Rodeos out of Oneida,” said Sutton.

Ruby was a horse Sutton was familiar with as he had drew that horse and won at a rodeo in Clear Lake earlier in 2007.

“That’s kind of the day that my life changed drastically because when I was getting in the saddle and reaching for my right stirrup, Ruby flipped over on me in the chute and smashed me against the back of the chute,” said the Burke-based senator.

The rode accident “shattered two vertebrae and had spinal cord damage” and left Sutton paralyzed from the waist down. According to Sutton, this event changed his life drastically and significantly. He was immediately life flighted to Minneapolis. During surgery in Minnesota, he was implanted with two rods and ten screws in his back. He did rehab at Craig Institute in Denver.

This injury and subsequent life as a paralyzed individual did not stop his determination to succeed and help others.

“Not only did I get to leave rodeo on my own terms, I was told I would never walk again. That was pretty eye opening as far as what direction my life would go,” said the Burke citizen. “I could roll over and quit or I could fight for a better life.”

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