PIERRE – We’re all in this together. That was a recurring theme during the State of the Tribes address delivered on Thursday to a joint session of the South Dakota Legislature.
“We are all neighbors. We are all South Dakotans,” said Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Chairman Boyd Gourneau.
When he looks around the Lower Brule Reservation on the west bank of the Missouri River in Lyman and Stanley counties, Gourneau said, he sees hard-working South Dakotans. Those people have helped create some of the tribe’s economic success stories like its popcorn company, its commercial hunting, and its gaming and restaurant success.
Media coverage often overlooks tribal success stories, Gourneau said.
Problems exist on the reservation, including an epidemic of methamphetamine use. Gourneau said that meth use was “rampant” and has overwhelmed the tribe’s judicial system.
Health care would be better on the reservation, Gourneau said, if the United States government would live up to its treaty obligations.
“It’s just one example of how the government has failed to serve tribal members,” he said.
Gourneau called on the Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage in the state.
“We can work together to save the state of South Dakota money and the lives of Native Americans,” Gourneau said.
With Rep. Mark Mickelson, the Speaker of the House and the son of the late Gov. George Mickelson looking on, Gourneau recalled the day when Gov. Mickelson’s airplane crashed.
Gourneau said he had met the elder Mickelson and was influenced by his attempt at racial reconciliation in South Dakota.
He asked lawmakers to look back at the proclamation Gov. Mickelson used to declare the need for the reconciliation effort. He called the document a “blueprint” that could be used by the state and federal government to advance the reconciliation of the races.
“He encouraged both Indians and non-Indians to put aside their difference,” Gourneau said of the late governor.