BISMARCK, N.D. - Kevin Killer's quest for social justice comes naturally.
An Oglala Lakota tribal member and a resident of Pine Ridge, S.D., he learned his core values for helping others from his grandmother, Lessanes Killer, Francis Killer, an accountant whose practice catered to a Native clientele and who also worked with the National Indian Gaming Commission and National Congress of American Indians.
''She [his grandmother] just wanted to help people,'' Killer said. ''She stressed the community activism part into my dad. He applied that into his business principles. He had a core business philosophy in that he always helped Indians. He was able to stay in business for 20 years because of that.''
Killer, 28, grew up in Denver, Colo., where he went to high school, and eventually attended Metro State College and the University of Colorado.
After the death of his father in 1999, Killer accepted a job offer in 2000 on the Pine Ridge Reservation and eventually enrolled in Oglala Lakota College, where he is now a senior. Killer, who is also Kiowa through his mother, Janet Chaddlesone Little, said that his father ''stressed the importance of us coming back and helping out in our community.'' He said that his community involvement includes participating in Sweatlodge ceremonies and making Lakota values a part of his everyday life.
In addition to his studies at OLC, Killer also works as part of a burial assistance program with the BIA. Yet, for his youth, Killer's political resume has grown extensively in a short amount of time. In 2004, he worked as a neighborhood canvasser for the congressional campaign of Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., and has also worked with the senatorial campaign of Tim Johnson, D-S.D. It was during his work with the Herseth campaign when voter problems arose in South Dakota in 2004. He said many polling place workers made mistakes such as not accepting tribal IDs as valid forms of identification.
''They weren't informing the voters that they were eligible, in lieu of ID, to do an affidavit. I got involved because we barely get people to come in and vote, and two minutes later they'd be walking out saying they weren't eligible and turned away.''
Killer's campaign work and notice of South Dakota's voting problems led to his involvement with the Young People For program, where he recently finished a term as the elected national president of the YP4 Fellowship Network. The program is for college-enrolled youth to make changes in their community and is part of People for the American Way, an organization founded by Norman Lear, creator of the series ''All in the Family.'' Each fellow in the YP4 program is required to create a ''blueprint'' for community change.
''My initial blueprint my first year was voter rights work here in South Dakota - register people to vote, inform them of their rights, and just let them know they have a voice,'' Killer said. ''With the experiences in 2004, we didn't want to repeat that in 2006.''
Killer's activities also include touring colleges as a trainer with Wellstone Action, an organization that trains future progressive leaders, and he was a recent participant in the 2007 INDN's List Campaign Camp in California. Killer is also a board member with the National Indian Education Association, and has raised $150,000 for the annual Great Plains Christmas Drive.
On March 25, 2007, Killer filed with the state of South Dakota as a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives District 27, which encompasses most of Pine Ridge. Also running for the Democratic nomination in this district is Porcupine, S.D., resident Edward Iron Cloud III, who, like Killer, is also an INDN's List Campaign Camp participant; Joseph White Bear Cloth of Wounded Knee, S.D.; and Robert Fogg of Martin, S.D.
For Killer, the main needs of his district include creating job opportunities, where he estimates that unemployment on Pine Ridge is more than 50 percent; finding better solutions for health care; obtaining adequate funding for public education, with more than 90 percent of Native students in District 27 attending public schools; and harnessing wind energy, a largely untapped energy source in his district, with collaboration of both tribes and tribal colleges.
Killer, however, doesn't see his campaign as being confined to Pine Ridge or as meeting strictly with a Democratic base. Instead, he sees his district as largely rural, and that the needs of the rural community affect everyone within his district. For this reason, he wants to meet everyone within his district, regardless of political affiliation.
''One of the things in terms of campaign strategy is just going door to door to people and hearing their concerns,'' Killer said. ''Just for people to have contact with somebody that cares about their issues and cares about their well-being. I think it's important for that to happen. It gives the people who are voting a certain trust into a campaign, candidate or issue.''
The Democratic primary for District 27 is June 3, with the winner facing one of two possible Republicans, one of these being first-term incumbent Mark De Vries.
Killer was rather modest when asked by Indian Country Today if he was the best candidate for the job, saying that there were many people out there who were qualified to run. Killer said that if he won the nomination, he would take the concerns of the other candidates with him.
''I think that it's come to a point in our history and as a rural community that we need to start voicing our concerns better for everybody. We need to start getting out there and really making sure those needs of our community are met.''