RAPID CITY, S.D. - South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow, took the spotlight off himself and praised the thousands of volunteers who helped during disasters on the Pine Ridge Reservation and in Spencer during a conference presentation here.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe made a special honoring ceremony for Janklow's quick reaction in the aftermath of a disastrous tornado that struck the Oglala village on June 4, 1999. One person died hundreds were injured and left homeless.
"I wasn't the first person there," Janklow said. "When you are the governor or the chairman or president of a tribe you get the credit for things other people do. When I got to Oglala, firefighters were already on the way home."
Janklow was invited to speak at a gathering of 28 tribal nations attending a conference organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Oglala Sioux Tribe took advantage of the opportunity in front of delegates from other federal agencies and the tribes from FEMA region VIII to honor Janklow for his efforts during the Oglala disaster.
"Disasters bring out the very best of people. All of sudden there were no jurisdictional issues. All of a sudden no one cared what church you went to. All of sudden no one cared about the color of your skin. People did this just to help people out," Janklow said.
Janklow has taken some heat from the press and tribes over his reaction to a recent report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that criticized the state over justice problems with American Indians. He referred to the report as garbage after numerous tribal members testified before a civil rights forum that they perceived racism played an negative role in law enforcement and justice in the state.
All of that was forgotten when it came to the Oglala honoring. Janklow was presented with a plaque and star quilt for his quick reaction to the Oglala disaster.
"When a person is in public office, people seldom get to see the real you. People don't seen the man or woman. In a human disaster the human spirit comes out," said Floyd Brings Plenty, councilman from Oglala.
"I want to thank Bill Janklow for all he has done. And I would like to have the tribe give a tribal flag to the inmates for their help." Brings Plenty said that because of the efforts of the inmates and the governor's help, the area struck by the tornado was cleaned up two weeks later.
"Of all of the recognition I have received, none means more than this," Janklow said.
He told the gathering of some 300 people that a 1996 snow storm that affected tribal nations and others in the state brought help to the point that volunteers had to be turned away.
"I got a call from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe emergency coordinator early in the morning. He said they had a few pieces of heavy equipment, but they could send a tracked vehicle to get through the snow drifts. When we put the call out that people in Eagle Butte were running out of food, trucks came from everywhere.,"
When the tornado hit Spencer, volunteers from every county in the state came to help. The governor made it a point to add that many people from the reservations were on hand with equipment and manpower to assist.
"At Oglala it was the first time we used inmates on the reservation. There was no jurisdictional issue,' Janklow said.
Wilbur Between Lodges, acting president of the Oglala Lakota Nation, said he got a call from Janklow the morning after the tornado hit Oglala that said he was coming down. "And he did. We could say the governor did what he had to do and that's it. But, if someone shows heart we don't forget it. We are grateful."
Between Lodges said, as he honored the governor, that Janklow went beyond his role in that office in the help he provided to assist the people of Oglala.
Janklow also praised the region VIII FEMA director, Rick Weiland, for his work to help people of the state and region. Weiland, a long-time Democrat, ran for public office in 1996. Janklow, a Republican, and Weiland often see issues from opposing viewpoints.
"You epitomize quality in public service. If you can't always fix something you make it easier."
Janklow said when he called Weiland after a major fire in the southern Black Hills, the area was declared a disaster area 30 minutes later.
Brings Plenty said because of the work of many federal agencies, a new community emerged from the destruction at Oglala. The USDA, with the help of many youth and adults from the Pine Ridge Reservation, planted 103 trees in the Jonas Belt Village near Oglala. The village was built with the help of FEMA money, the Housing and Urban Development agency and some homes constructed by inmates at the South Dakota prison.
"When humans suffer, it brings out the best in the worst of us" Janklow said.