A visible member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe says work between Indians and the rest of the state is not done. While much of the country took Monday off for Columbus Day, South Dakotans celebrated Native American Day. Leaders made the decision to change the holiday years ago. One man says some people still don’t use the holiday’s proper name.
JR LaPlante spent nearly four years as South Dakota’s first Secretary of Tribal Relations. He says changes made in 1990 were not answers to Native-white relations, but starting points. He says issues still exist.
“What you really want South Dakotans, both Indian and non-Indians alike, to understand is that was loss, there was a loss of culture, that there was a loss of identity, and that we were all a part of this together, and we need to really heal from those things,” LaPlante says. “And it’s not simply a matter of saying, ‘Okay. I admit it. It happened.’ But it’s matter of admitting it, acknowledging it, accepting it, and then making the changes within oneself and within our systems within the state so that we can truly heal and move forward.”
LaPlante says everyday people can begin to shift cultural tensions. He says non-Natives should challenge their own preconceived notions of the Indian experience or take up a cause that impacts Native Americans.
“I think when state government starts looking more like our state population, when organizations begin to reflect the demographics of our state, when we begin to celebrate Native America like we do another holiday and we’re not afraid to call it what it is. So a lot of people don’t call Native American [Day] ‘Native American Day,’ even though it’s been a state holiday for 25 years,” LaPlante says.
LaPlante says discussions and efforts now are laying the groundwork for what he calls a watershed moment, where people clearly see the challenges between cultures and make meaningful changes.