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Tribal leaders meet with Congressional delegation

CUSTER, S.D.- Sioux tribal leaders and South Dakota's congressional
delegation met behind closed doors to discuss the tough issues facing
Indian country and the result was termed a success by the leadership.

"There are some tough issues as always, and we had an opportunity to
address those in a manner that is befitting tribal government with our
congressional delegation," said Charles Colombe, president of the Rosebud
Sioux Tribe and co-host for the Great Sioux Nation Summit.

This is the first time this type of meeting has been held in this region
and the leadership said annual meetings would be welcomed.

The meeting encountered with some controversy because the media and the
public were excluded. At the meeting, however, there was no confrontation
from any outsiders.

"We want to make this an annual event so that we know what Congress is
doing and we also want them to understand the issues as we see them from
Indian country," Colombe said.

The topics open for discussion were not different from what tribal leaders
and congressional leadership discuss on a regular basis. They varied from
health care to sovereignty, to land acquisition, trust reform, economic
development infrastructure on reservations and other topics, tribal leaders
said.

So what makes this meeting so different and closed?

"This is the most crucial time in my 66 years on this planet. Indian issues
today have taken a back seat to other areas," Colombe said. As an example
he said that Indian country is funded at a lesser amount per capita than
are federal prisoners.

"We are being set on a shelf, of course there are other issues, there is a
war going on, but this is different in my opinion. Indian people today
understand the power of the ballot box. That is something that we are
looking very seriously at. We want our elected officials to know that we
are going to vote and we want to be heard," he said.

The meeting was not partisan or political. Insiders mentioned that only one
or two tribal officials mentioned the Senate race under way between Sen.
Tom Daschle and John Thune.

The intent of the closed meeting was to allow each person to be candid and
unencumbered by media attention or by public scrutiny, organizers said.

"We had a wonderful exchange and should do this regularly. It gives us an
opportunity to meet and talk candidly," Sen. Daschle said. "The more we can
do this the more unified we can be and the more successful we can be with
our efforts in Washington."

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., also in attendance, called it a special
gathering, the first time all the tribes and the senators have all been
together at the same time to devote an entire day to give and take.

"It's not a matter of deal making, it a matter of sharing and updating what
is going on in Washington and doing it in a truly consultative way,"
Johnson said.

It was an opportunity for all tribal leaders to share their perspectives
and putting ideas on the table.

The treaties of 1851 and 1868 were brought up frequently in the course of
the meeting, attendees said. To many this is the most important issue in
Indian country.

"The reason this meeting is so important, is because at home we still lead
statistics in low average life span, we still live in poverty," said Jesse
"Jay" Taken Alive, council representative from the Standing Rock Sioux
Reservation.

"As we decolonize ourselves we are looking for mutual respect from the
Congressional leadership, not only from South Dakota, but from the United
States of America," he said.

J.C. Crawford, chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe said leaders needed
to come together to build bridges that overlap and heal the scars from
inequities that have taken place over the years.

"In a perfect world people will be united. Our 'dreams are the same whether
on the reservations or in Sioux Falls or Rapid City. The issues are our
issues," he said.

A person missing from the delegation was the Gov. Mike Rounds, Crawford
said. He mentioned that the governor's economic initiative, the 2010
Initiative was something that the tribes could look at and participate in,
not for ourselves, he said, but for the children.

Chairman Harold Frazier, Cheyenne River Sioux, said the tribes in the
region were fortunate to have a good relationship with the Congressional
delegation. He said that other tribes did not have that luxury.

"You get a lot more done with two senators in Washington," he said.

Future summit meetings are yet to be planned, but the delegation at the
first meeting said tribes from North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska,
Iowa and Minnesota would be invited to attend, along with their respective
Congressional delegations.