South Dakota state of the tribes speech is like 'trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube'

The Associated Press

After boycott threat, legislature invites Crow Creek leader to give tribes address

Stephen Groves

Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota legislators have invited the Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman to deliver the annual State of the Tribes address after some tribal leaders threatened to boycott a planned address by a member of Gov. Kristi Noem's cabinet.

Lawmakers on Monday invited Lester Thompson Jr. to deliver the address next week. Thompson hasn't responded yet.

The move is a switch from plans to have Secretary of Tribal Relations Dave Flute give it. The annual speech is supposed to promote cooperation between the state government and the tribes, but instead became a point of friction when tribal leaders objected to having a state employee give the speech. 

Last week, some tribal leaders said they would hold their own event called the Great Sioux Nation Tribal address.

That event will still happen in Fort Pierre across the Missouri River from the Capitol, but has been rescheduled for after the State of the Tribes address.

Lawmakers discussed having Flute give the address in a December meeting of the Legislature's Executive Board. For the past four years, a current tribal chairman or president has delivered the address, but legislators argued that Flute would be able to cover issues facing all tribes in South Dakota, rather than a single tribe. Flute previously served as chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux and joined Noem's cabinet last year.

Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, said the legislature does not have a formal protocol for choosing who to invite to give the address.

Noem has been at odds with several Indian tribes in the state over laws created in anticipation of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The governor is scheduled to meet with tribal leaders later this week to discuss legislation in the 2020 session that may affect tribes.

Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier said that despite the dispute, "that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying to work together."

Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said the dispute over the address revealed the need for better communication between tribal governments and the state. He said it has traditionally been an adversarial relationship, but credited both sides for working to open lines of communication. But episodes like this don't help, Heinert said.

"This hasn't been fun this week," he said. "I'm trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube."

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