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Tribal Leaders Discuss Parolee Pilot Program

South Dakota tribal leaders are in Pierre Wednesday discussing issues affecting Indian Country. Tribal Relations Day starts with a listening session focused on public safety. Part of the discussion is how Senate Bill 70 passed last year is affecting the tribes.

The criminal justice reform includes a pilot program to help decrease recidivism of Native Americans on reservations. Shaun Eastman with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate is helping implement the program. She says when Native Americans return home from prison, there will be task forces of volunteers to keep them on track.

“The people that are gonna be in this project, their crimes occur at home. The crimes occur there and they want to return there so it’s really important that we look at it as a community approach. I don’t want to say there hasn’t been anything, they haven’t had a chance to succeed before, but this is a new process, it’s a new way to find out what we can do to keep our guys home,” Eastman says.

Eastman says for Native Americans to be successful while on parole, part of the process is assessments prior to being released from prison. Once out, the focus moves to awareness of resources.

Richard Lunderman with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe worries about possibly losing tribal power to the state. He says the state needs to stop focusing on improving prisons and instead look at possible causes.

“Why doesn’t the state maximize Lakota culture in the education system and prevent a lot of these problems? That’s where Lakota culture belongs. It belongs out front, it belongs in education system—that’s one of the biggest problems the education system has done to us is created these identity issues,” Lunderman says.

Despite some tribal leaders’ concerns over the state-tribal agreement for the pilot program, State Tribal Relations Secretary JR LaPlante says a lot of work went into drafting the language to protect the tribes.