PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate began the State of the Tribes message Thursday to the South Dakota Legislature with a moment of silence for COVID-19 victims.
Then he announced his “government name” — Delbert Hopkins, Jr. — and emphasized the nation-to-nation relationship between native indigenous peoples and the U.S. government.
The 1861 Dakota Territory Act, Hopkins said, “protected Indian rights of persons and property. That means our land and liberty.”
He continued, “In the State of South Dakota admission act, the people of South Dakota promised that they would never lay claim to Indian land on the condition of becoming a state. That provision guides the state of South Dakota today, and must be read together with our treaties and territorial acts.”
On education, he said, “Having adopted Dakota in the state’s name, schools should teach about our history and culture of our Dakota Oyate and Oceti Sakowin — Seven Council Fires. That’s not critical race, that’s history and humanity.”
The comment stood in contrast to Governor Kristi Noem’s legislation that would ban the teaching of critical race theory in South Dakota.
The governor wasn’t seen in the House chamber for Chairman Hopkins’ speech. South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen was on hand, watching from the gallery.
Noem and Jensen had delivered their State of the State and State of the Judiciary messages to state lawmakers the two previous days.
The governor’s secretary of tribal relations, David Flute, was upfront with Hopkins. Flute previously was a Sisseton Wahpeton tribal chairman.
Hopkins called for the Legislature to give its full support for funding of a new tribal school, green energy from wind and sun, and roads. He supported extending the federal child tax credit. He acknowledged that tribal students don’t do as well as other students and said indigenous language immersion is important. He said reservation unemployment can be 50 to 80% seasonally and tourism holds economic promise.
“Nationally our native nations must take the lead on the cultural tourism, ’cause otherwise it’s not cultural, it’s not tourism, but simply exploitation,” he said.
Representative Peri Pourier, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a Democrat from Pine Ridge, reacted afterward.
“I applaud and honor Chairman Hopkin’s address asking the legislature for support on several important federal issues,” she said. “Maintaining good relations with the Tribal Nations within South Dakota requires hard work and presence.”
She added, “Showing up to South Dakota’s own State of the Tribes Address would have been an essential part of repairing tribal relations for Governor Noem. It was duly noted Noem and her staff members were not present at all. We hope the work of the Legislature will be able to bridge the gap.”