Tribes, Native American groups call for ‘no changes’ to some S.D. legislative districts

Capitol News Bureau

Current legislative districts. Photo courtesy South Dakota News Watch

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A subcommittee of state lawmakers considering boundary changes to South Dakota’s 35 legislative districts heard from several tribal governments and Native American groups Tuesday.

Oliver “OJ” Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and executive director for Four Directions Native Vote, presented written testimony that said several districts and sub-districts should keep their current boundaries.

They are:

  • 26 and 26A, representing all or parts of Brule, Buffalo, Jones, Lyman, Mellette and Todd counties.
  • 27, representing all or parts of Bennett, Haakon, Jackson, Pennington and Oglala Lakota counties.
  • 28A, the eastern half of 28, representing all or parts of Butte, Corson, Dewey, Harding, Perkins and Ziebach counties.

Scott Herman, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, made similar points in his testimony.

“All four are well-established majority Native districts. Each was drawn either by this Legislature or the federal courts to ensure that South Dakota has met its obligations under the Voting Rights Act. Despite the substantial undercount of Native populations in the 2020 census, these districts can remain within the
population deviation permitted under federal law,” Herman testified.

Keeping District 27 the same was a priority for Kevin Killer, chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He previously represented the district for 10 years in the Legislature.

Killer said he was concerned the Legislature’s current redistricting committees are considering changes to 27.

“The Pine Ridge Reservation lies entirely within District 27 and it has a majority Native American voting age population. I urge the committees to ensure full compliance with the Voting Rights Act by maintaining District 27’s current boundaries in its new redistricting plan,” Killer testified.

A similar argument came from Kellen Returns From Scout, a Standing Rock Sioux member and the budget/finance director for the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association. The group represents 16 tribal nations in Nebraska, North Dakota, and all nine in South Dakota.

The House and Senate redistricting committees hold a joint meeting Thursday at the Capitol in Pierre, starting at 10 a.m. CT. The panels have a series of community meetings at six locations across South Dakota October 11-13. They’ll meet again October 18 and finalize their proposal October 25. The Legislature meets in special session November 8 to consider the final plan.

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