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