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Volesky wants tribal delegates in Legislature

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HURON, S.D. - The state Legislature and the nine tribes in South Dakota will be asked to deal with an issue that could mend racial tensions in the state.

Ron Volesky, newly elected state senator from Huron, said he will introduce a bill that would allow at least one non-voting delegate from each of the state's tribes to serve in the Legislature.

"The delegates will have an opportunity to be directly involved with various issues that impact tribes. Sometimes the Legislature doesn't have an official tribal position," Volesky said.

The delegates would be able to serve on committee, participate in the debates on the Senate and House floors and in committees, but not have a vote in the final outcome of legislation.

"It would be nice to have a tribal delegate to express (the tribe's) opinion.

"I'm excited about introducing it and getting the bill into the legislative process and see what reaction we get from the state and the tribes," he said.

Volesky said he had not yet taken the idea on a fishing expedition among the legislators or tribes, and won't until the bill is drafted, which is in progress.

"I think it will be interesting how the Legislature will welcome the bill and interesting to see how the tribes react.

Gregg Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told The Associated Press that he would like to see the details, but thought it was a good plan. "I think it definitely has possibilities."

It is not clear whether the delegates will be part of the House or the Senate or both. Volesky offered a theory that would put part of the nine delegates in the House, the remainder in the Senate for one year, then rotate the following year.

Delegates could be selected by a vote of the tribal membership or chosen by the tribal government. They wouldn't be restricted to discussing issues that directly involved tribal government and state-tribal relations, Volesky said.

"This will do a lot to foster state-tribal relations. It offers an opportunity to sit down and get serious about better relations with the tribes."

Tribal delegations in state legislatures are not new. Maine has non-voting delegates in its legislature and in Wisconsin the idea is taking hold with a bill that, like Volesky's bill will be introduced in the 2001 session.

The Wisconsin measure has support of tribes located within the state.

"Oftentimes, there may be a piece of legislation that has a direct impact on our community, but tribes have thus far been cut out of the debate," Robert Chicks, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican, said at the gathering of the National Congress of American Indians.

The placement of delegates to the legislature in Maine has been a success, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures. For every state with substantial American Indian populations, to adopt the policy may not be realistic because some 40 American Indians have been elected to state legislatures this year.

In South Dakota four American Indians represent districts in the Legislature.