HURON, S.D. -- Ron Volesky, Lakota, says he will be the next governor of
his state and he has an important agenda to work with tribes.
Volesky, a Democrat and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, made a
run for governor in 2002 but fell short in the primary elections. He was
tagged by the state Democratic Party to run for attorney general.
South Dakota is primarily a Republican state, with the Legislature,
governor's office and attorney general's office occupied by Republicans.
Only four legislators are American Indian, and with the current set
districts there will never be more American Indian legislators.
"How many Native Americans are in positions in state government? How many
department heads, secretaries? Not very many, other than [Roger Campbell]
as head of [the office of tribal government relations]; that will change,"
One other state office is filled by an American Indian, a group which makes
up 10 percent of the population: Indian education coordinator.
Volesky said he would not only work to put more American Indians in state
jobs, but would appoint American Indians to the judiciary.
"I'm not going to have a quota system; I will look to find good quality
Indian men and women to serve in leadership in state government, both in
the executive and judiciary," he said.
Volesky proposes a positive change in state government toward American
Indian issues, including improvements in race relations, he said. Volesky
served for 16 years in the state Legislature and introduced numerous bills
regarding racial profiling and economic development, none of which passed.
He said the state can help with economic development by pooling resources,
both human and financial, to develop good jobs on reservations.
"Relying upon gambling as [the] economic bedrock of reservation economies
is poor public planning. I'm not preaching against gambling, but I don't
see that as being a basis for building a strong economic structure."
Volesky said the state could step up and help tribes develop economically
and he suggested that he would put together a commission for that purpose.
Education, health care, race relations, economic development and criminal
jurisdiction are all important issues that Volesky said the state could be
involved with, and would be, under his administration.
Education, he said, would be an important part of his administration.
"Education is the future for our kids, from all over the state." He said
the state could help with teacher recruitment.
The whole issue of criminal jurisdiction needs to be looked at, he said.
Volesky was appointed to a state task force to address prison issues. More
than 25 percent of the population in the state penitentiary is Native. That
figure is out of balance with the percentage of American Indians in the
In past legislative sessions, bills such as anti-racial profiling bills and
a bill to bring the state into compliance with the federal Indian Child
Welfare Act were all sidetracked, changed or never received a floor vote in
one or both houses of the Legislature.
A bill that Volesky introduced a few years ago would have made it mandatory
to appoint an American Indian to sit on the state parole board flew through
committee and the House floor, but met with opposition in the Senate and
died there. Volesky said that wouldn't happen in his administration.
Gov. M. Michael Rounds expressed disappoint that the bill did not pass and
said he would appoint an American Indian to the board at the next
opportunity. The Board of Pardons and Paroles Web site does not indicate
that an American Indian has yet been appointed.
"The power of the governor's office can get things done. First, elect a
Democrat who is an enrolled member of a tribe. I don't think Rounds is all
that interested. He will give you good lip service.
"Republicans are not interested in these issues; Democrats are, and they
don't have the numbers. Things could happen if they elected a Democratic
governor who is a tribal member."
Volesky praised the Rounds administration for opening an office of Indian
education and appointing a tribal member from the Rosebud reservation as
its first director. The office has yet to be fully staffed or funded, which
is a problem shared with the state tribal relations office.
Volesky said he would like to see a representative from each of the nine
reservations as non-voting delegates to the state Legislature. He said it
would raise issues facing American Indians to a new level. He introduced
such a bill in 2001, but it didn't get out of committee.
Volesky can campaign on the reservations and gather together a large number
of votes, but non-Indian voters in local elections have stepped up voter
turnout campaigns to counter the growing power of the American Indian vote.
"There is nothing I can do to stop them from singing the same song in
Indian country, but what they [Republicans] have done ... they have been in
power and you never hear from them until election time rolls around."
Volesky said he would sit down with the tribal leadership and ask what
direction the state and tribes need to go.
Rounds has not officially announced his intent to seek re-election in 2006,
and Volesky may have two Democratic opponents in the primary, but neither
has officially announced intent.
Volesky is an attorney in Huron, S.D.