PIERRE, SD (AP) — Sisseton Speaker Wahpeton Oyate gave the South Dakota Legislature a history lesson Thursday during the annual State of the Tribes Address, with a focus on tribal sovereignty and government-to-government relations.
President Delbert Hopkins Jr. entered the chamber of the House to the sound of a beating drum, Dakota songs, and an honor guard of tribal veterans. After leading the chamber in a moment of silence for those who died of COVID-19, he reminded lawmakers that treaties between the U.S. government and tribal nations have always been part of the country’s history, starting with George Washington and the Constitution.
“In the South Dakota State Admissions Act, the people of South Dakota promised that they would never claim Indian lands as a condition of becoming a state,” Hopkins told the Legislature.
State and tribal governments have a long and difficult relationship in South Dakota, and the annual State of the Tribes Address, delivered by one of the state’s nine tribal leaders, aims to foster cooperation. Hopkins named several areas where the state and tribes could work better together, including education, economic development and law enforcement.
But he also made sure to remind lawmakers that they even owed the name of the state to the tribes.
“Having adopted Dakota as the name of the state, public schools should teach our history and culture of our Dakota Oyate and our Seven Fires of the Oceti Sakowin Council,” Hopkins said, referring to tribes based in the state.
‘It’s not a critical race, it’s the history of mankind,’ he added, lashing out at Republican Governor Kristi Noem, who prioritized the ban of the so-called “critical race theory”. public school classes this year.
Noem recognized that Native American history is an essential part of state history that should be taught. But last year, the state government faced protests from some Native American educators after the Department of Education removed more than a dozen references. to the culture and history of Oceti Sakowin from a proposed social studies standard. Under pressure from Indigenous groups as well as fellow Conservatives, Noem revived the standards verification process.
Peri Pourier, a Democratic representative from the Oglala Lakota tribe, criticized the governor for not attending the event.
“To appear at the South Dakota Tribal State Address would have been a vital part of repairing tribal relations for Governor Noem,” she said in a statement.
Hopkins drew a direct line from the abuses of Indian boarding schools that removed children from their families and eradicated Indigenous languages to the problems plaguing reservations today, including high unemployment, aging school buildings and drug addiction.
“For decades, the poorest counties in America have always been our Sioux reservations,” Hopkins said, as he advocated for economic development like tourism.
Hopkins ended with a further call for cooperation, saying the state and tribes could “achieve great things with mutual respect and understanding.”