Gov. Rounds seeks to improve race relations

Gov. Rounds seeks to improve race relations by Randy Dockendorf In making better race relations a priority for his administration, Gov. Mike Rounds told college students Friday he is approaching the task on a person-to-person as well as a tribal basis.

Rounds met with 25 students from 18 tribes across the nation at the fourth annual American Indian Journalism Institute (AIJI). The Freedom Forum is hosting the three-week workshop at The University of South Dakota.

"I recognize both race and tribal relations, but they are not the same thing," Rounds said at the press conference. "Race relations involve one person with another. State and tribal relations involve one government to another government."

Either way, whites and American Indians must work for better understanding, the governor said.

"There is no room in this state and country for racism. I'm not saying racism doesn't exist, but it shouldn't," he said.

As part of his people-to-people effort, Rounds has invited members of each tribe in South Dakota to the governor's mansion. He said the lunches or dinners are geared toward getting to know each other rather than focusing on political agendas.

Reconciliation must recognize the massive poverty and unemployment marking life on the reservations, Rounds said.

"Many of the poorest counties in the United States are located in South Dakota, and they are the reservations. It's time it stops. We want to be a resource for them," the governor said.

"I was elected by the people on and off the reservation. American Indians are tribal members, but they are also citizens of South Dakota. Economic-development plans do not quit at the reservation boundaries. When you help the economy, you help all South Dakotans."

However, Rounds quickly noted he does not want the state taking over the tribes and their projects.

"We are trying to do things cooperatively with tribal leaders, but I don't want to tell them what they have to do. You have to know what works in your community," he said.

The tribes, including the Yankton Sioux, have expressed their interests for economic development, Rounds said.

"Some tribes want to do more gaming, some want farming and ranching, others want tourism. We want to be in a position to help poverty and unemployment issues," he said.

For example, the state provided $180,000 to the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe for a marketing study, the governor said.

"The tribe owns its own herd of beef. They are now getting commodity prices, but if they had a brand name, they would get more money for it," he said. "I invited the tribal council to forward a proposal, and they did."

Rounds offered other examples where the state has tried to help with economic development. When a Madison business announced it was closing, state officials sought to save the 100 jobs, the governor said. And the state's Hutterites are working on a processing plant for the six million turkeys raised annually on the colonies.

However, the efforts with tribes sometimes run into legal snags, Rounds said. The state, counties, cities and tribes need to sort out sovereignty issues, duplication of services, and judicial and law-enforcement issues.

For example, the state and tribes are negotiating after a recent Supreme Court ruling that the state cannot collect gas tax from American Indians on their tribal land, Rounds said.

"As another example, we have a checkerboard of law enforcement where we're not sure who should investigate an accident," he said.

On the other hand, the state has authorized construction of a nursing home on the Cheyenne River reservation. "We have never done it before, and it received almost unanimous support in the legislature," he said.

An arrangement has also been made to house American Indian prisoners closer to their families, the governor said.

The press conference also focused on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and its impact on American Indian students.

A student journalist said standardized tests are geared to English-speaking students, which could harm American Indian students where English is a second language. He also asked if NCLB will stifle American Indian languages and culture.

Rounds said he treats NCLB as something to be embraced, not feared.

"I take it in the spirit in which it was intended. Many people think of it as nothing more than a federal mandate, but I see it as a gift to be celebrated," the governor said.

"NCLB recognizes students where English is a second language, and it identifies it as a different group. It is brought in for consideration and for help with things they need."

In closing, Rounds said journalists provide three critical services for the public.

"They provide a true transfer of real-time information � straightforward, unbiased information which brings things out in the open," he said. "Second, they help form opinion and challenge other people to think; and they provide an expression of different points of view. Media help provide open discussion without retaliation, which adds to the public's benefit."

Rounds said good writing is crucial for anyone, and he encouraged the AIJI participants to work with their talents. "It's a gift, but it needs to be developed," he said.

Afterwards, student journalists Louis Montclair and William Kie said the press conference was a positive experience.

"(Rounds) seemed genuinely concerned about Native American issues. I enjoyed meeting him," Kie said.

Montclair said he likewise enjoyed the give-and-take with Rounds, talking with and photographing the governor afterward and even asking his annual salary. "He is a typical politician, but not in a bad way," Montclair said of the governor.

Montclair, an Assiniboine Sioux from Poplar, MT, attended Fort Peck Community College and will now attend the University of Montana. Kie, a Laguna Pueblo from San Fidel, NM, attends the University of New Mexico.

The two students, participating in AIJI for the first time, said American Indian issues are similar across the nation. They praised the AIJI as a hectic but exciting experience which will boost their careers.

"I feel at home, and it's been really cool here. I have talked to people I would have never interviewed before," Montclair said, adding he would like to use his skills to help his people.

Montclair and Kie said they have received valuable instruction and encouragement. They particularly noted the help from Fred Sweets, senior photo editor for the Associated Press.

Sweets said he has enjoyed working with the students. Besides teaching the technical aspects of journalism, Sweets has stressed newsroom ethics. The topic has received scrutiny following the plagiarism and fabrication of dozens of stories by former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. The fallout led to Thursday's resignation of Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd. Sweets worked with Boyd early in their careers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Sweets called the resignations "a tragedy for two outstanding journalists."

While journalism is undergoing turbulent times, Sweets said he sees exciting times ahead for today's students. He commended USA Today founder Al Neuharth, a South Dakota native and USD graduate, for bringing opportunities and new facilities to the Vermillion campus.

"The (AIJI) students are well prepared, and they gave quality questions at the press conference (with Rounds)," he said. "I am impressed. There is tremendous potential here."

, and I could see where these students will work for a major newspaper or the Associated Press."

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