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South Dakota makes another try at reconciliation

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PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota has for many generations been known as a racist Mecca but a new plan is in the works for a summer meeting to promote reconciliation between whites and Indians.

U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has proposed a one-day gathering at the Pierre Indian Learning Center in early summer. Pierre is the seat of the state government.

"The conference on reconciliation is designed in large measure to bring Indian and non-Indian leadership together and talk about mutual concerns and mutual challenges, and our mutual responsibility in governing all people within our state borders," Daschle said.

"I hope this will be an annual conference with the governor and state delegation, and we will invite all the tribal leadership in the state and others to help guide us in meaningful dialogue for one day."

In the early part of the 1990s then Gov. George Mickelson proposed a year of reconciliation. Mickelson was killed in a plane crash in 1993 and his idea never was fully realized.

"Mickelson had the right ideas. Tribal relations are different than race relations. Leaders have the ability to shape opinions," said Gov. Mike Rounds. The governor also has proposed bringing the leadership and other people together in an attempt to rekindle the movement of reconciliation.

Gov. Rounds will also be directly involved in the new reconciliation move.

Daschle said a number of priorities would be part of the discussion.

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"How do we develop a better government-to-government communication and relationship when we look to the challenges we face?" he said.

"Secondly, how can we do a better job of legal, judiciary and law enforcement challenges? Third, how can we make sure that economic development is something that enjoys a high priority on reservations as it does throughout the state? How might we work together for better development?

"Next, what are our common issues with regard to both education and health, how can we do a better job of coordinating our activities on education and health and finally, what can we do about agriculture? Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of economic vitality in our state both on reservation and off," Daschle said.

Many issues have been brought up by tribal leaders and American Indians over the years. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights jammed volumes of testimony into a document that criticized the state for poor justice equality.

And on Feb. 12, the state legislature defeated a bill that would have changed the law against displaying dangling objects from rear view mirrors. Many American Indians have dream catchers or other cultural objects hanging from their rear view mirrors. Testimony at various state and federal meetings has charged that law enforcement officers stop vehicles for this offense and also check others riding in the vehicle for outstanding warrants and other offenses. But they allegedly do not do the same for non-Indian vehicles.

The legislature also defeated a bill to eliminate the number on a license plate that indicates the county in which the vehicle is registered. In South Dakota the first numbers on the license plate indicate the county the vehicle comes from, and many members of tribes argue that they are improperly followed by law enforcement just because their license plate indicates they come from a reservation.

The argument against the license plate bill was that people of the state like to know where people in cars are from.

"I still believe we have a long way to go to bring together a broad cross section of South Dakotans to forge better understanding and mutual respect and capitalize on all of the tremendous initiatives that we could make if we worked more closely together," Daschle said.

"But I also want to empower and motivate South Dakotans to challenge themselves to improve the lives through reconciliation of Indian and non-Indian people alike."