I write in response to your Feb. 5 editorial We Hope Effort is More Than an Empty Gesture.
Thank you for your interest in the Year of Unity. However, I disagree with your opinion that there has been only a tiny sign of progress in improving race relations in South Dakota since Gov. George Mickelson proclaimed the Year of Reconciliation in 1990.
No one can deny that cultural change can be difficult. It takes time, patience, and fortitude. The task can, at times, be disheartening. To move forward and remain energized, it's important for all South Dakotans to recognize that progress is being made.
The Year of Unity not only gives us the opportunity to renew South Dakota's dedication to improving race relations, it also provides us an occasion to celebrate our many success stories.
A prime example of progress is the Indian Education Act, which I proposed to the South Dakota Legislature. Passage of the 2007 law put increased priority on Indian education and cultural understanding through education. Specifically, the act led to development of the Indian Education Advisory Council and re-establishment of the Office of Indian Education. It also infused more South Dakota Native American history and culture in education standards and assessments. In addition, the state Board of Education now includes a tribal member.
Other cultural communication and relationship improvements have taken place in recent years on the tourism and economic development fronts.
Tourism and tribal representatives now meet regularly to work specifically on advancement of tribal tourism in South Dakota. This has led to the addition of a tribal tourism segment at the Governor's Tourism Conference, production of a tribal tourism brochure, and inclusion of tribal attractions during media tours and international tourism tours.
Economic development also is moving forward in Indian Country.
In 2008, cooperation between the Rosebud Electronic Integration Corporation, the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, and Governor's Office of Economic Development led to opening of Advanced Electronic Rosebud Integration in Mission. The firm started with seven employees and expects to eventually employ 25. The initial partnership has spawned other job opportunities and business development in the area, including a mini-mart, garage, and grocery store.
In the Timber Lake area, local, tribal, and state leaders worked together to bring in Octaflex and Lakota Industries. They design and produce hunting bows, employing more than 20 people – primarily Native Americans.
There have been many other state-tribal successes in South Dakota since I became Governor in 2003. They include:
• Establishment of a state Board of Geographic Names to revise culturally offensive geographic names
• Approval of supplements to the Indian Child Welfare Act, which authorize the State and Indian Tribes to enter into agreements for the foster care and custody of Native American children
• Hiring of an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) program specialist by the Department of Social Services
• Assisting tribal authorities with disaster recovery efforts on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Indian reservations in the wake of severe blizzards this winter, including on-site help from state Emergency Operations managers
• Special law enforcement training for tribal officers to combat methamphetamine distribution and use on reservations
• Production of a program by South Dakota Public Broadcasting and the White Buffalo Calf Women Society to address teenage suicides on reservations
• Authorizing the construction of a nursing home on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation
• Devoting a segment of cultural diversity training at the University of South Dakota Medical School to the Native American culture
• Coordinated efforts to upgrade the water system on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation
• An annual Indian Education Conference established by the state Department of Education
• Establishment of the Gear Up program by the state Department of Education and Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium to enhance higher education opportunities for Native American students
• Tribal officials working together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clean up petroleum leaks and spills on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
• The Oglala Sioux Tribe and South Dakota Department of Game Fish and Parks cooperating to build an outdoor classroom at Pine Ridge High School
• Various tax compacts between tribes and the state Department of Revenue
• Tribal colleges and the state Department of Health working together to build an internship program
• Agreement between tribes and the state Department of Transportation on road construction funds
• Tribal Employment Rights representatives being invited to transportation construction project meetings
• Child safety seats and safety-seat technician training being provided on reservations
• Inclusion of a Native American representative on the state Board of Pardons and Paroles
• A public celebration of Native American culture in an annual day set aside at the State Capitol during the legislative session
These are just some examples of the many and diverse efforts that have been implemented in recent years.
Certainly there is work left to do. But as was the case 20 years ago, the Year of Unity is a small – but important – step in a long journey.
During this Year of Unity, on a community and personal level, I ask all South Dakotans to be advocates for humanity. Together, we can strengthen South Dakota for all people and all cultures. By uniting as individuals, we can build a better future.
M. Michael Rounds