PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A panel of lawmakers could ask the Legislature next year to recognize the 30th anniversary of when the Legislature created Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota and also hold a parade in Pierre to mark the state holiday.
The State-Tribal Relations Committee heard a request Tuesday from Representative Tamara St. John and Richie Richards, a journalist for Native Sun News Today in Rapid City.
Richards said he organized the Native Americans’ Day parade in Sioux Falls two years ago. His employer, Tim Giago, had worked with Governor George S. Mickelson to declare 1990 as a year of reconciliation in South Dakota.
The Legislature followed during the 1990 session by approving bills recognizing the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and converting the second Monday of October to Native Americans’ Day. State government employees began getting paid-leave for both.
The October date previously was Columbus Day for many years. Legislators in the 1980s changed it to Pioneer Day. Both were known as “working holidays” because most people including state government employees went to their jobs regardless of what calendars said.
Richards said Mickelson’s call for a century of reconciliation “fizzled” after his 1993 death. Richardson said the legislative committee could renew what Mickelson and Giago started in 1990.
St. John, a Sisseton Republican and member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, described herself as “a big fan” of Richards. She is a historian who advocates tribal governments take control of cultural traditions.
She said recognizing the 30th anniversary and starting a Pierre parade could be ways to honor the leadership of the past. “I think we’re all in agreement we need that in South Dakota,” she said.
Richards said he was 14 years old in 1989 at Marty Indian School and thought it would be good to have a holiday for Native Americans. He said it’s now grown into a national movement.
He said a parade in Pierre during the morning to honor the Mickelson family “would be a great thing,” followed by events in the afternoon. He said he has sponsors and donors who could support it.
Representative Shawn Bordeaux, a Mission Democrat who was elected as the panel’s new chairman Tuesday, described their suggestions as “a great idea.”
“The late governor put so much effort into the reconciliation efforts, like Mr. Giago did as well,” Bordeaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a former council member, said. “Anything we can do to help relations, I think this committee is supportive of that.”
Senator Troy Heinert, a Mission Democrat and Rosebud Sioux member who previously chaired the committee, said too it was “a great idea.” Heinert noted Pierre and Fort Pierre have a large Native American community.
Richards said Native Americans’ Day isn’t celebrated as much as it could be in Sioux Falls. He said children still attend school and banks are open. He said some Sioux Falls officials offered other dates but he “stuck to my guns” on the actual Native Americans’ Day.
“We insisted on making that happen,” he said.
St. John said she was in Rapid City during Native Americans’ Day this year. She gave an introduction at the Rapid Plaza Civic Center that was “full of screaming, energetic kids.”
Richards said he’d like to see a formal statement of support.
Senator Lance Russell, a Hot Springs Republican, told Richards what he was doing was “really helpful.” Russell recalled playing high school sports for Edgemont against reservation-area schools and said he didn’t become adequately exposed about Native American history until he attended Black Hills State University in Spearfish.
Russell said it was “important” for cultures to enlighten each other and noted that one common pursuit in South Dakota is rodeo.
Richards said many people support reconciliation. “Yes it would be October 12, looking for a full day of events, and fry bread,” Richards said.
Heinert said the panel would discuss the matter later and maybe offer a resolution confirming the original goals or expanding them. “Because it’s going to take more than a year,” Heinert said.
Richards said that’s what he was looking for. He hosts a TV program, Oyate Today, that tapes Thursdays. He invited lawmakers to be on the show the week of Lakota Nation Invitational events in December.
Bordeaux said the committee could endorse a resolution December 18 and then talk about it on the show December 19.
St. John said Native American coursework known as Oceti Sakowin is already on the state Department of Education web page. “It is curriculum that can be adjusted for any age group,” she said. “It’s already done.”
She said it would be “great” if Oceti Sakowin could be required in South Dakota’s public schools.