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Education tops the list for South Dakota legislation

PIERRE, S.D. -- Not so many years ago, South Dakota's American Indian
students were generally sent to trade schools. But in the 1950s, a couple
of students demonstrated their determination to attend the University of
South Dakota; and more Indian students were admitted in the 1960s.

Tom Shortbull, president of Oglala Lakota College, was one of 20 American
Indian students who attended the university in the 1960s and one of two who
graduated. His education, coupled with elders of the Pine Ridge Reservation
who said they could educate themselves, led to the college's creation.

Today seven tribal colleges are located in South Dakota. Each one struggles
with funding, yet they turn out teachers, nurses, business leaders and
other professionals.

Shortbull said the state does not fulfill a financial obligation to the
tribal colleges as in other states.

The tribal colleges have asked the state to contribute financially because
many of their students are non-Indian or classified as non-eligible
students. That means they are not tribal members and federal funding on a
per-student basis does not apply to them. They could be sons and daughters
of tribal members, but not eligible for enrollment in the tribe.

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State Rep. Paul Valandra, Sicangu Lakota, said he will introduce
legislation that would allow the state to appropriate more than $500,000
for the tribal colleges to cover the expense of non-benefactor students.

Valandra said the same bill, only with a lower appropriation, was passed
three times in the 1990s but the funding was never distributed.

Shortbull said that was because the state does not think it should support
American Indian issues unless it supports other ethnic groups in the state,
such as the Germans and Irish. He calls it "racial insensitivity."

Valandra said the bill this year will attempt to fund the colleges with
between $500,000 and $1 million.

The bill's passage is far from certain. It takes a two-thirds majority to
pass this legislation, and Valandra is not sure that will happen. Both
houses are controlled by the Republicans and in the House, where this bill
will be introduced, only one-third of the members are from the Democratic
Party. Most legislation favorable to the American Indian community is
supported by the Democrats.