State Senate Panel Endorses Flute As Tribal Relations Head

Capitol News Bureau

David Flute won unanimous endorsement from a panel of South Dakota senators Wednesday as the new state Secretary of Tribal Relations.

His hands folded, the former chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribal government listened politely from the witness chair as the Senate State Affairs Committee proceeded through the roll call vote.

Flute had begun the hearing by standing and speaking to the senators in his native tribal language. After the vote, he approached the committee and shook hands with each of the nine lawmakers and their two staff members.

He said fighting methamphetamine would be a top priority.

Flute engaged with Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Heinert is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and doesn’t support the project.

Flute said public safety is the number-one issue and he wants to make sure people can express their concerns about the pipeline. He noted he owns vehicles that use oil and turned the question around, saying he hasn’t seen a statistic that a person has died from drinking contaminated water in South Dakota.

“I hope it never happens. I pray it never happens,” Flute said.

Senator Brock Greenfield said he’s known Flute about two weeks and said Flute presented himself “very well” during a budget hearing for the state Department of Tribal Relations.

The Clark Republican said Flute welcomed him and another senator as friends when they popped in to see the department’s office.

“He rolled out the red carpet,” Greenfield said about Flute.

Heinert said he loved to hear non-English native languages spoken in the Capitol.  He suggested Flute should work with tribal chairmen and presidents and there would be issues where they disagreed.

“You have my support,” Heinert told Flute.

Flute replied, “Washte” — an expression for “beautiful” or “nice” or “thanks” in Lakota.

Senator Al Novstrup recalled a conversation he had a few years ago with Flute whose vision the Aberdeen Republican described as “out of the box.”

Flute’s nomination now moves to the full Senate for a roll-call confirmation vote.

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