Skip to main content

South Dakota's legislative session disappoints

PIERRE, S.D. -- The majority of bills that would favor the interests of the
nine reservations and their nearly 10 percent American Indian population of
the state were killed this legislative session.

TRIBAL COLLEGE AID DENIED

South Dakota failed to mirror Montana when it comes to financial aid to
tribal colleges based on the non-tribal student enrollment.

A legislative measure that asked for $500,000 -- an estimated $1,000 per
non-beneficial student -- to assist tribal colleges with expenses incurred
by state residents who are not enrolled tribal members was moved to the day
after the end of the 2006 legislative session, effectively killing the
bill.

State Sen. Theresa Two Bulls, Oglala from Pine Ridge, authored the bill,
which a large number of senators and representatives co-sponsored. The bill
nonetheless failed in the State Affairs Committee.

Committee members admitted that tribal colleges play a major role in South
Dakota by educating rural families who could not travel because of lengthy
distances, and that tribal members benefit from the education for
employment possibilities and service to the reservations.

State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck said that the tribal colleges did very good work,
yet there were a lot of institutions that did good work -- a reference to
the many private institutions in the state. "But just because they do good
work, we don't need to fund them out of the state budget," Schoenbeck said.

Oglala Lakota College President Tom Shortbull reminded the committee that
in 1991 the Legislature passed a bill that appropriated $50,000 for tribal
colleges, only to have the funds held up and not dispersed: "Which was
illegal," he said.

Of the 200 teaching positions on Pine Ridge, 100 are filled by tribal
members and 86 percent graduated from Oglala Lakota College, Shortbull
said.

"We are an asset to this state. Farmers and ranchers need additional income
and some come to our schools," he said.

Sinte Gleska University, on the Rosebud reservation, has the highest
enrolled number of non-beneficial students, or students who are not
enrolled tribal members. Sinte Gleska would receive the bulk of the
appropriations.

State Sen. Stanford Adelstein, chairman of the joint state/tribal relations
committee, said the proposed legislation spoke to fairness. He said the
state appropriates $3,500 per student to each university.

"This is an investment in jobs; it is a bill whose time has come,"
Adelstein said.

Schoenbeck, however, said that the tribal colleges were "some other
government entity's college."

Montana appropriated $1 million in support of tribal colleges. Montana's
American Indian population and number of tribal colleges in rural areas are
similar to that of South Dakota.

BEAR BUTTE BUFFER ZONE BILL KILLED

Differences between commercial activities that involve biker bars and
concerts, property rights and American Indian spirituality collide when the
sacred mountain Bear Butte is at the center of political activity.

A bill introduced by state Reps. Jim Bradford, Pine Ridge, and Paul
Valandra, Rosebud, would have created a four-mile buffer zone around Bear
Butte that would not allow any on-sale liquor licenses.

That buffer zone would have included part of the town of Sturgis, home to
the nation's largest biker rally.

The bill was killed in committee.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Sturgis and the surrounding areas are home to campgrounds, bars and
entertainment venues located within and outside the city limits. The town
is in close proximity to Bear Butte, which some 23 tribes consider sacred.

The stir over Bear Butte erupted recently when the owner of establishments
that are located at nearly every biker rally in the country proposed a
mega-biker saloon on the north edge of Bear Butte called "Sacred Ground."

Opposing such an establishment so close to Bear Butte are the Lakota who
use the area as a ceremonial ground and have done so for centuries. Many
people have attended county commission meetings to protest such a new
establishment.

The complaint is that another biker bar would add to the disruption of
ceremonies that take place during the summer months.

"We didn't want to hamper commerce of the largest event in South Dakota. We
wanted to grandfather in every establishment now that exists," Valandra
said.

"There is a potential for other licenses and a potential for development
right into the Butte," he said.

He said he understood why people were concerned with the carnival
atmosphere, campers and entertainment stages within sight and sound of Bear
Butte.

"Somebody has to establish a buffer zone. People with the largest vested
interest are the Indian people," he said. Valandra did offer a compromise
that would shorten the buffer zone to two and one-half miles.

Meade County prides itself on its lack of zoning, said Jane Murphy,
landowner near Bear Butte.

"I have a right to protect my property, and I think there is a financial
benefit to the beauty of the Black Hills. Bear Butte is a treasure to all
of us," she said.

Bear Butte is recognized as a sacred site by many residents around Sturgis
and steps have been taken to protect the mountain and its sacredness. The
state purchased Bear Butte and turned it into a state park for its
protection.

"This legislation is outrageous," said House Majority Leader Rep. Larry
Rhoden, of Meade County.

"It is one thing to protect Bear Butte for Native Americans, but not when
impacting miles around it," he said.

Rhoden told a meeting of constituents the weekend before the hearing on
Bear Butte that he would guarantee the bill would not get out of committee.
Rhoden is not on the local government committee that held the hearing.

When Bear Butte is discussed at the local government level, most opponents
use the religious aspect of the area as an argument against more
development.

Opponents of the bill said that every meeting proposing any further
development was opposed by a "religious sect" and that every objection was
religion-based. They argued that the state had already given religious
favoritism by not allowing hikers near the ceremonial site of Bear Butte.

OTHER DEFEATS

A bill that would have changed jurisdiction of Class 5 and 6 felony
offenders from the state to counties was defeated. American Indians are
incarcerated in state prisons at a higher rate per capita than any other
group in the state. Most of those felonies involve drugs and alcohol. That
bill was killed in committee

A bill that would lift a moratorium on nursing homes for the Pine Ridge
Reservation was defeated. The state imposed a moratorium on the building of
new nursing homes and the people of Pine Ridge would like to have their
elders closer to home. They have to travel great distances to find beds for
the elderly. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is part of a pilot project to
see if a nursing facility on a reservation would be sound. CRST was given a
waiver on the moratorium two years ago.

There will be no requirement that an American Indian sit on the board of
Parole and Pardons. The governor has appointed an American Indian to
presently sit on the board.