David Flute told South Dakota legislators at a budget hearing Thursday he’s been on the job five days as Governor Kristi Noem’s new secretary of tribal relations but the time has felt like 50.
Flute, who recently finished a three-year term as chairman for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribal government, explained the plan for his department to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations.
He said methamphetamine addiction was the common problem faced on all nine of the reservations and throughout the state.
“It is horrible on the reservations,” Flute said. “It affects the entire tribal nation, which affects all of South Dakota.”
He listed a variety of problems such as failed drug tests that affect employment, parents losing children and straining public safety resources.
Opioid and heroin have deepened their hold too, he said.
“I can’t stand for that,” Flute told lawmakers.
His testimony came hours before Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Rodney Bordeaux was scheduled to deliver the State of the Tribes address to senators and representatives in the House chamber.
Flute said he understood that financial resources to battle the drug problem would be limited but it didn’t mean he would stop fighting.
He replaced Steve Emery, a former tribal judge, as secretary, when Noem took office Saturday as the first woman elected governor in South Dakota’s 130 years of statehood.
Flute has two positions open in his six-person office.He said the Noem administration and South Dakota’s three members of Congress would be offering “an olive branch” to tribal governments.
The federal Indian Health Service “failed miserably” with Great Plains tribes by rearranging funding, he said and setting tribal governments at odds.
Flute pledged to Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, that he would seek to get an agreement between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the state Department of Social Services regarding children’s welfare.
Maher had told the story of a phone call from a 12-year-old tribal member who said she was being injected with amphetamines and being sexually trafficked by family members. Maher said she killed herself the next year.
Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, a retired bank executive, asked about getting more tribal governments to participate in uniform commercial code filings for loans.
Flute said, “The seed has been planted. We need to nurture that seed.” White replied he understands it’s a two-way street and asked Flute for suggestions on what bankers can do to make tribal governments more comfortable.
On tourism, Flute said reservations have much to offer. He recalled working with the U.S. Department of State in 2017 to host an international gathering of museum officials on the Lake Traverse Reservation.
“I don’t just want to talk about things. I want to do things,” Flute said.