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Congresswoman experiences Indian country

Herseth listens to leaders

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Freshman Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth experienced a
bi-partisan effort to deal with American Indian issues, but also sees a
need for further educating Congress on American Indian needs.

Herseth, elected to the House of Representatives on June 1, 2004 is serving
the remaining months of the seat vacated by William Janklow.

She said she has seen efforts to work positively on American Indian issues
on both sides of the aisle. Funding is still below what it should be and
the treaty obligations must be adhered to, she said.

Herseth took time off during the brief August recess to visit with
constituents and do some campaigning. She will also be on the Nov. 2,
ballot in at attempt to hold on to her seat.

Challenger Larry Diedrich, has the support of the Bush administration. Vice
President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynn have made trips to South Dakota to
fund raise and campaign for Diedrich. He was asked to participate in an
interview, but was unable to.

Two days after the special election of June 1, Herseth was sworn in. Two
weeks later her staff was in place and tribal leaders from South Dakota
were already on her doorstep.

A bill to compensate the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the Crow Creek Sioux
Tribe for land lost during the construction of power dams on the Missouri
River was part of her first charge as a Congresswoman. Herseth introduced
that parity bill in Congress. Since South Dakota was without representation
for six months that bill had sat in the wings.

"I have appreciated the feedback I received from Indian country. Many said
they liked the fact that I used a Lakota word in my floor speech during my
swearing in ceremony.

"That's small and it showed my appreciation for Native voters and what they
did for Tim Johnson in what was a very close race."

The second stage to that partnership goes beyond the election process to
the policy making process, she said.

In the first couple of weeks during conferences and meetings some unique
issues the tribes face were discussed, Herseth said.

"Water development, transportation funding needs; health care and education
needs expansion, and that comes from every community."

Herseth serves on the House Resources Committee. She said with the help of
tribal leaders, progress can be made for environmental issues, and economic
development while empowering people at the local level.

"It is increasingly important to form partnerships with financial
institutions and housing institutions in addition to the relevant federal
agencies for private enterprise and small business development that will
create jobs.

"While it's good to see a three-fold increase in the funding for IHS, we
know it's not enough. It always needs a constant pressure and we need to
put it in context with the treaty obligations."

Targeting funds toward special needs toward the treatment and prevention of
diabetes and heart disease is also important, she said. Tribal leaders
focus on those two health issues she continued.

A nagging issue is education, not on reservations and urban areas -
education in Congress. There is a great need to fully fund programs that
are put in place by Congress and treaties, but they never seem to quite
meet the actual need. Schools are crumbling, health care is poorly funded
and housing is inadequate. It's the same problem, no funds.

The change in funding may be a long-range effort and education is part of
that formula, Herseth said.

"It's going to take more of the first-hand observation and awareness of how
severe some of the problems are. And we also will have to overcome what is
happening to a degree, because certain tribes have success in gaming that
they take, they Congress, takes the total wealth and average it across the
board for Native people.

"They suggest we don't have to fully fund the treaty obligation," Herseth
said.

As things move forward there will be greater distinction between treaty and
non-treaty tribes in relation to the allocation of resources. Herseth said
that taking the situations that some of the wealthier tribes are in,
Shannon County in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and the
Rosebud Reservation can't be used as a comparisons.

"I think it did help when it was brought to the attention of policymakers
that we were spending more per federal prisoner, than per Native American,"
she said.

"It has to be a balanced, informed approach that really does take a longer
term. We would all like to say we will meet all the health care and housing
needs in the next two years, I don't know that is feasible. Where do we
want to be 10 years from now?"

Herseth said she first looks at water, housing, transportation, roads as
the infrastructure. Then, she said, it is feasible to look at what can be
done for health care and education.

"From there we have the best possible foundation for small business
development and small enterprise."

She said both the federal and tribal governments have to be on a dual
track. With the annual appropriations, she said, the immediate needs of the
tribes must be met, but also planning for fiscal years in the future there
is a need to know what will happen.

"There has to be input and the blessing of not just tribal leadership
because it changes as do members of Congress, but the input the elders and
of the business owners, at least you will have the input from people of
what the 10 or 15 year goals should be. And that is the input that should
be guiding the process in Washington. At least we have that plan to work
from instead of the plan of hoping we can get more money next year,"
Herseth said.