Candidate Stites-Means, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe with ties to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, has answered the call for a Native American to run for Mayor of Rapid City. Photo by Karla R. LaRive

Native Sun News Today: Native woman seeks highest office in Rapid City

Challenging Mayor Allender: Natalie Stites-Means
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY – Natalie Stites-Means is one of five Native American women who have stepped up to run for office in Rapid City; which includes four of the five wards for City Council and Mayor of Rapid City. This Rapid City leader answered the call to run for Mayor and her campaign has hit the ground running.

Native Sun News Today had the opportunity to ask Candidate Stites-Means a few questions as the election campaigns for both mayoral candidates begins in Rapid City. Her opponent: Mayor Steve Allender.

NSNT: Tell us about yourself, where you grew up and your tribal affiliation.

Natalie Stites-Means: I am an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe with ties to Rosebud and Crow Creek. My parents married while in the U.S. Army. So I was born at the Womak Army hospital in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during the Vietnam Era. My mother was an MP – Military Police and my father was Airborne.

After the army, my parents moved to California and I grew up in the City of Commerce, California, a working class, Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant majority community. Throughout my childhood, my mother, father and stepmother were all sheriffs with Los Angeles County and instilled within me a work ethic and ambition for the common man and woman that drives me today.

Just in case you might not know it, I heard my opponent has $13M in a political action committee. $13,000,000. Thirteen...

Posted by Natalie Stites Means for Rapid City Mayor on Sunday, March 31, 2019

NSNT: What is your educational background? And why did you choose this field?

Natalie Stites-Means: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA in History, with a minor in American Indian Studies, and earned a Juris Doctor from UCLA School of Law with a specialization in Public Interest Law & Policy. After high school graduation, I put myself through community college while working fulltime to transfer to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) when I was 20 years old.

When I graduated, I was honored with a Chancellor’s Service Award for my service to the UCLA community at large, a community of over 70,000 students, faculty and staff. I was interested in community service, politics and government as means to reduce human suffering and increase education for a better world.

Soon after being appointed by the Governor and serving as a higher education policy advisor in his education office, I applied to and was accepted at the UCLA School of Law. I also completed coursework in the Master’s program in American Indian Studies at UCLA, in hopes of preparing to return to my tribe and help my people here in South Dakota.

NSNT: What has your career been like so far? Tell us some of the highlights.

Natalie Stites-Means: I became the first Native American (tribally enrolled) to be awarded the Assembly State Fellowship in Sacramento California in 1999 after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree from UCLA. After law school, I was awarded a clerkship with the Ho-Chunk Nation Trial Court in Wisconsin working on child protection, child support, trust fund and employment cases.

I then moved to South Dakota and began working for my own tribe the Cheyenne River Sioux as well as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (my grandfather’s tribe). This exposed me to tribal government and what it means to live in tribal and reservation communities. In 2010, I played a key role in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s emergency response to the Ice Storm incident that caused the energy and water systems of the reservation to fail for three weeks. Working tirelessly, we raised over $1M dollars and brought the storm to the attention of the national media.

Tackling issues like emergency disaster response or children exposed to violence in a reservation community or having to make unpopular workforce decisions or even rescuing the local domestic violence shelter from grant management ruin, these experiences have made for rich and unique professional and life experiences. After being tapped by a federally funded Tribal Youth training and technical assistance center with the University of Oklahoma medical school to work remotely with Tribes nationally, I moved to Rapid City with my two-year-old daughter.

Recently, the Center closed when the grant award ended, and I have found myself working again as a consultant. When I am not running for mayor, or technically I am trying to work while I run for Mayor but it seems almost impossible -- I consult with clients on programs relating to violence against women and children, and trauma-informed approaches to healing, safety and justice.

It’s a historic time in Rapid City, South Dakota! There’s Lakota/Dakota candidates for City Council & Mayor!!! It’s...

Posted by Whitney Rencountre on Wednesday, March 27, 2019
A record five Native women are running for public office in Rapid City, South Dakota. From left: Natalie Stites Means for Mayor, Ramona Herrington for City Council (Ward 2), Cante Heart for City Council (Ward 5), Stephanie Savoy for City Council (Ward 3) and Terra Houskaa for City Council (Ward 1). Image: Whitney Rencountre

NSNT: What have you been working on as far as advocacy? Which social groups and causes have you worked for?

I have become an advocate for women and children in different ways, without an organization but rather a strong network of warrior women willing to defend motherhood and children. The bureaucracy monetizes people’s struggles and crises, profiting from problems instead of solving them and I think the facts support my perspective. For that reason, I have often stepped out of my professional role as a trainer or technical assistance provider in order to directly assist children and their mothers and help them navigate the systems they are in contact with and cannot get out of.

Occasionally, I have helped fathers or victims of domestic violence, but that is lot more uncommon. Concurrent to this type of advocacy since 2011, literally gaining probably a whole new associates degree worth of time spent studying and training to address violence in families and communities, I began to become conscious of the connection between all the violence being committed against women and children, and the use and exploitation of the earth, including water. I stood with the people at Standing Rock, camping at the Oceti Sakowin Camp among the Kul Wicasa Treaty Camp and my family camp. The family camp was the most common form of participation in that movement, a movement for the water and against pipelines that continues today.

The connection between fossil fuel development and missing and murdered Indigenous women cannot be underestimated is one conclusion I have come to through my advocacy, professionally and personally. I believe that we are smart enough and conscious enough to recognize that this way of fossil fuels and big oil does not include a future for anyone on this earth. We can do better. If you have ever seen an oil rig in real life, the raping-the-earth metaphor is quite fitting.

NSNT: How did you decide to run for Mayor of Rapid City? And when?

Natalie Stites-Means: I decided on March 4 after a City Council meeting regarding the anti-panhandler’s ordinance they passed unanimously, that people with heart and compassion needed to run for office against the incumbents. And no offense to them, but they offended a number of us with their dubious theories of behavioral change and conclusions around what ails the Native American community, as though it is fundamentally different than any other impoverished or traumatized community or family in Rapid City.

I really question the notion that somehow non-Native people cannot comprehend historical trauma, because that does not comport with those non-Natives I’ve worked with shoulder to shoulder on this campaign so far. I feel I have a strong understanding of non-Native and Native histories, cultures and civilizations. This is critical to leading Rapid City, especially as the current economic development plan calls for an immigrant workforce to increase for tourism and calls for military veterans to settle here in Rapid City.

I decided to run because after a few years of living here, I realized that it is not just the voices of women or children, the hungry or the houseless, the Native Americans and young people who are being excluded, it is all of us and more. All voices of Rapid City deserve to be heard in city hall.


Support Native media!

Read the rest of the story on Native Sun News Today: Challenging Mayor Allender: Natalie Stites-Means

Contact Native Sun News Today Correspondent Richie Richards

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines