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Native leaders, federal officials seek to improve emergency responses

C.J. Keene

In Rapid City, Native leaders linked with federal emergency response agencies, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and elected representatives to improve local disaster response strategies.

It was a winter sure to be remembered on the Rosebud Reservation near the South Dakota-Nebraska border, where infrastructure was tested by blizzard snowfall measured in the feet rather than inches.

South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds spoke at the event. He said this is an opportunity to establish connections before emergencies like that happen again.

“With regard to tribal trust land and land that is on the reservations, primary authority for law enforcement, for zoning and so forth lies with the tribe," Rounds said. "You want to make sure that you’re communicating or coordinating with law enforcement. If you talk about it in advance before you have the emergency, then those individuals know one another, and they’re better able to respond when they know each other and they know whose responsibility it is, and they know where the resources are at.”

He said while the federal government wants to help tribes in these situations, there is an unavoidable sovereignty question.

“We all recognize there is a sovereignty among the tribes, but that sovereignty works fine until you need resources that the tribe does not have immediately on hand," Rounds said. "That’s when you say okay, we have different levels of government, how do we work together so that we can provide the immediate assistance to the people that expect us to be able to help them.”

Frank Star Comes Out is the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He said he appreciates seeing first-hand efforts.

“The main thing is communication, the talks," Star Comes Out said. "We’re getting that out there, starting to organize, getting these resources from different government agencies to come out to Indian country. Meet with us personally, and really take a look at how life is on our reservations.”

Among other groups, the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, FEMA, and the BIA were present.

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