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With elections approaching the future of state-tribal reconciliation remains in question

At the Downtown Sioux Falls Rotary Club, South Dakota gubernatorial candidate takes questions
At the Downtown Sioux Falls Rotary Club, South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith takes questions about the election.

There is a long road ahead regarding reconciliation between South Dakota’s government and the states tribes, and this could play a factor in the coming election.

While attending a recent Sioux Falls rotary club meeting, South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith was faced with a question about reconciliation with the state’s tribes.

“We keep working towards it, but I think it’s something that’s probably never done, but the focus has to remain," Smith said. "The people that were here first shouldn’t be treated last. So, I have a friend named Ed Iron Cloud, some of you might know Ed from Pine Ridge. He came, and he’s a real quiet man, he comes and sits in my office and kinda rocks. He said ‘Jamie, we gotta figure out how to make Native Americans be a part of the fabric of South Dakota again, instead of just being kinda over here.’”

Incumbent Governor Kristi Noem has vocalized desires to improve state-tribal relations. But she has faced pushback on issues like tribal sovereignty over COVID-19 restrictions, as well as her so-called “riot boosting” act – which some tribal members saw as an effort to limit their right to protest.

Representatives from Noem’s campaign pointed to chapter eighteen of her book “Not My First Rodeo,” in which Noem said her guiding principal on tribal issues has been to “let me try.”

Smith described Noem’s administrative policy surrounding Native issues as “combative”.

“Covid was part of that – but I think we have to respect their sovereignty in making a different choice for their people," Smith said. "And when it comes to how do you work together through our issues, it can’t be us as a state going to the tribe and saying, ‘this is what you have to do.’”

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer said reconciliation plays a part in every facet of government.

“We need to look at all things that the State of South Dakota is involved in, especially around economic development, and how to open up those doors," Killer said. "And I know the Governor has the GOED program around economic development, and they have influence over how that’s administered. Things like that would go a long way."

Killer also cited healthcare and law enforcement as issues he’d be interested in collaborating with state government on.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture