South Dakota Democrats will decide Attorney General nomination Friday

ICT editorial team

'Highly experienced?' Tatewin Means demonstrates range of experience beyond law enforcement #NativeVote18

Mark Trahant

Indian Country Today

South Dakota Democrats this weekend will decide on a nominee for Attorney General at their party convention. Most states let voters have their say instead of a few dozen party faithful.

There are two candidates: Tatewin Means and Randy Seiler.

Let’s start by looking at the press coverage. This is the lede from The Associated Press: “South Dakota Democrats choosing their candidate for state attorney general will decide between a highly experienced former U.S. attorney and a past Oglala Sioux Tribe attorney general who could become the first Native American woman in the country to hold the post.”

Highly experienced versus a first. But this sentence says much more about the thinking of reporters, and many citizens, about what qualifies as “highly experienced."

Means is a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and she is Oglala Lakota. She has a remarkable background, including managing the many difficult legal issues as the Oglala Tribe’s attorney general. She’s chair of graduate studies at Oglala Lakota College, and a former states’ attorney for Oglala County. She has an environmental engineering degree from Stanford, a juris doctor from the University of Minnesota Law School, and a masters in leadership from Oglala Lakota College. She has worked in child custody and protection issues. And worked with the most vulerable. All told she has rich civil and criminal legal experience, tribal law experience, academic experience, and, yes, more criminal law enforcement experience.

Highly experienced.

This is how Seiler defines himself (via the Associated Press) “he served as South Dakota’s U.S. attorney from 2015 through 2017, leaving after more than two decades at the office. He has also been a deputy state's attorney and director of the South Dakota Division of Law Enforcement Assistance. “I’m the best qualified and most experienced,” Seiler said ahead of the convention. “I have the background in public service at all levels, and, at the end of the day, I think I have the best chance of winning the seat for the Democrats in November.” He said he would make fighting methamphetamine abuse his main priority if elected attorney general.

In other words a lot of experience in federal civil and criminal law. Academic? Not so much. Tribal law? Not mentioned. Life experience? Privilege.

None of that experience accounts for the challenges of being a professional woman and mother who serves in a tribal nation.

This is what Means says about herself (somehow missing from the Associated Press version of what is considered, "highly qualified"). ”Over the last few weeks as I have talked to people about my campaign for Attorney General, people often ask me what makes me more qualified than others,” she wrote in a letter posted on her Facebook page. “Combined with my legal bona-fides and my strong track record of working to protect and support the most vulnerable, I am the candidate who gives South Dakota a new direction.”

Highly experienced.

The Associated Press also reported that Seiler collected more than $90,000 in campaign contributions. Means had raised about $6,000 as of mid-May.

South Dakota is only one of three states to nominate its executive offices (other than governor) though the party conventions. The vote is Friday.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports