Tribe official calls for better communication from lawmakers

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe on Thursday called on South Dakota lawmakers to improve communication with Native American communities, singling out bills passed last year that were aimed at expected protests of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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“When relationships collapse, miscommunication, distrust, and dishonesty lead to failures in government action,” Lester Thompson said in the annual State of the Tribes address at the South Dakota Capitol.

Thompson said that cooperation between state and tribal governments is necessary to move forward on a range of issues. He called for a requirement for pipeline companies to pay into a fund for oil spill cleanups, legislation to allow for charter schools focused on Native American culture, and for broader recognition of tribal identification cards.

“Legislation should not seek division but solutions,” Thompson said.

A divide has been evident between South Dakota's government and the tribes since last year. The tribes particularly were upset with the passage of “riot boosting laws” pushed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem. The Oglala Sioux Tribe responded by banning Noem from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a move which they have since rescinded.

Parts of the laws that made it a crime to encourage or direct others to “riot” were nullified in a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, Native American activists, and environmental groups in October.

But Noem is planning to revive the topic in this legislative session. She has proposed revisions of the laws to allow for peaceful protests but still prosecute people who “urge” rioting when force is “imminent.”

Thompson credited Noem for meeting with some tribal representatives last week to discuss upcoming legislation.

“Though we can disagree on policy objectives, any attempt to prevent our citizens voice from being heard we will continue to oppose,” he said.

Thompson called himself a “realist" on the oil pipeline. He said that passing legislation to protect the environment in the event of an oil spill would prevent the need for “riot boosting” laws.

“We must learn from North Dakota's mistakes before they repeat in our own state,” he said, referencing previous oil spills.

Thompson told the Legislature that extreme weather last year has particularly affected tribal lands and left families without access to emergency services and basic supplies. He also asked for lawmakers to adopt a resolution to ask Congress to repeal an 1863 law that forcibly removed Dakota people from Minnesota.

The annual speech is intended to promote cooperation between the tribal and state governments, but it became contentious after a dispute over who would deliver the speech. Noem's secretary of tribal relations, Dave Flute, was floated as a potential choice, but leaders of several tribes objected because he is a state employee. They threatened to boycott the speech and hold their own event.

Legislators scrambled to mend the dispute and invited Thompson to deliver the address. Representatives from all nine of South Dakota's tribes attended the State of the Tribes address.

The tribes' replacement event, called the Great Sioux Nation address, was rescheduled and held on the western side of the Missouri River in Fort Pierre, a significant location because some tribal leaders argue that it should be tribal land under treaty agreements.

At that event, each tribal leader took a turn speaking about the challenges facing their communities. Many vowed to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We need to do what we can to stop it because its going to destroy our way of life, our future,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Many of the leaders said the event would spark unified action between the tribes to address a persistent problem for their communities: meth.

Harold White, chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, said the tribes should start suing the federal government for not living up to treaty obligations to fund health care, law enforcement and other services on reservations.

“After the Dakota Uprising we were split and exiled from Minnesota,” said Tony Reider, president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, referring to an 1860’s conflict. “But we’re not defeated, we’re still here.”