Native Americans are the original inhabitants of South Dakota and the United States. Centuries of adherence to the Doctrine of Discovery by the U.S. legal system resulted in immeasurable individual and collective hardship and maltreatment of the Native population. They deserve and are entitled to better.
The Oceti Sakowin Oyate are strong people who are justifiably proud of their cultural heritage. Forcibly sequestered onto reservations by the U.S. Army, they remain sovereign nations whose legal rights and duties are enumerated in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Longstanding efforts to force assimilation by suppressing and eliminating native culture has left the inhabitants of many reservations disproportionately poverty-stricken.
As Senator, I will take specific actions to help improve Native American quality of life:
- Seek a position on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Native Americans are approximately 10 percent of South Dakota’s population. To be an effective advocate for improving their quality of life requires a seat at the table where important decisions are made.
- Hire a South Dakota Native American with life experience on one of our reservations to serve on my legislative staff. Representation matters so it is essential that I have an advisor with intimate personal knowledge and ongoing connections to the South Dakota reservation experience.
- Champion increased funding for the most critical entitlements of South Dakota’s various tribes–health care, education, housing, and law enforcement. For far too long the U.S. government has chronically underfunded numerous obligations guaranteed sovereign tribes by 19th century land transfer treaties. Inadequate funding for health care, housing, law enforcement, and education results in substandard services. The U.S. must act in good faith to fulfill its responsibilities in a meaningful way.
- Remove the work penalty on Native American benefits incentivizing unemployment. Under current law, working and receiving too much additional income often triggers the loss of federal benefits. People already struggling to get by should not be penalized for seeking to improve their economic situation beyond just surviving. I will work to implement changes incentivizing work while allowing continued receipt of federal benefits.
- Correct the Census Undercount. The U.S. Census Bureau has informed the tribal leadership of South Dakota reservations that official estimates of reservation populations are inaccurate. The reservation residential population is undercounted by up to 50 percent. I will use the appropriation process to secure the increased funding that should have been delivered due to the U.S. Census.
- Ensure a meaningful right to vote. All Native Americans legally became U.S. citizens in 1924. South Dakota continued denying voting rights until 1951. Since then, our state has been sued multiple times for violating Native voting rights. The most recent federal court decision against the state was earlier this year. I will advocate for adoption of the pending Native American Voting Rights Act as either a stand alone or incorporated into broader voting rights legislation such as the Freedom to Vote Act.
- Improve economic development on reservations. The federal government receives revenue from resource extraction industries operating on federal lands. Allocating 50% of such revenue generated on federal lands that were originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 to a South Dakota reservation economic development fund will enable Native inhabitants to improve the situation for themselves and their tribes.
Although we still have a long way to go, we cannot let the sins of past maltreatment stand in the way of all South Dakotans coming together to build a brighter future where we all thrive collectively. The actions outlined above are merely a starting point towards the goal of ensuring every South Dakota Native American can freely participate in our democracy while enjoying the dignity and liberty inherent in a life of meaning and purpose.