February 20, 2010

South Dakota's "Year of Unity"

'Year of Unity' launches

Tribal chairmen mixed in response to governor's initiative

By Steve Young
Tribal officials view Gov. Mike Rounds' call today for a "Year of Unity" in South Dakota with hope and promise but also a dose of skepticism.

In a nod to the 20th anniversary of the late Gov. George Mickelson's call for a Year of Reconciliation--and later a Century of Reconciliation--Rounds is proclaiming a "Year of Unity" in South Dakota today at a noon ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Pierre.

In a news release Jan. 25, the governor said he saw the Year of Unity taking place on a community-by-community and person-to-person basis and hoped South Dakotans "would promote, celebrate and understand the contributions of all races and cultures" in the state.
An example of how "unity" works in South Dakota:Joshua Weston, president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, said Rounds has consistently refused to negotiate for improvements in tribal gaming compacts--even, Weston said, as Deadwood has seen a 700 percent increase in gaming machines and video lottery establishments have seen a 400 percent increase.

As a result, his tribe has had to go to federal court to address the issue, the Flandreau president said.

"In our opinion, relations between the state of South Dakota and Native American tribes have reached a modern low under the Rounds administration," Weston said. "The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe would hope that Gov. Rounds would reverse his policy of ... opposition to tribal economic development as part of his Year of Unity."
Actions speak louder than wordsThis morning, during a ceremony at the South Dakota Capitol, officials from state government and the nine Native American tribes in South Dakota will gather to proclaim the 2010 Year of Unity.

The ceremony commemorates the 20th anniversary of a similar effort by the late Gov. George Mickelson to promote racial reconciliation in South Dakota.

That's a nice gesture, of course, but it must not also be an empty one. We hope Gov. Mike Rounds' wish to improve race relations goes much further than simply a speech, a ceremony and yet another proclamation that's not worth the paper it is written on.

For the Year of Unity to be meaningful, it must be followed by specific direction from the governor's office for improving inter-governmental relations between sovereign tribal governments and the state of South Dakota.

We don't blame some Native Americans for bringing a healthy dose of skepticism to this Rounds initiative, however well-intentioned it may be. In the first seven years of Gov. Rounds' administration, there had been scant emphasis placed on collaborative efforts to address the many issues that overlap between tribal and state governments: crime, mental health services, youth incarceration, education, casino gaming and so much more.
Comment:  To Indians, I suspect "unity" means "the mainstream should stop ignoring our concerns and start addressing them." To whites, I suspect it means "minorities should quit complaining and be grateful for what they have."

As with other efforts to apologize and reconcile and heal, I'm guessing the "Year of Unity" will have little or no effect on the daily lives of Indians.

For a related subject, see Obama's Invisible Apology and US Apologizes to Indians.

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