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S.D. governor tells students he has worked to improve race relations

By Randy Dockendorf
Yankton (S.D.) Daily Press and Dakotan


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VERMILLION, S.D. — Gov. Mike Rounds told a group of aspiring American Indian journalists that his administration has worked to improve race relations in South Dakota.

But while many strides have been made, much work remains to be done, Rounds said at a press conference during the Freedom Forum's American Indian Journalism Institute on The University of South Dakota campus.

"We have major work to do here in relationships between the Native American community and the white community," he told the 24 students representing 19 tribes from 12 states and one Canadian province.

"Reconciliation means there was peace to begin with, but when you look at where we started, there has always been conflict," he added.

Rounds emphasized better race relations between individuals and not just between the state and tribes.

"The measurement of progress is in trying to establish good personal relationships," he said. "We are sending the message to our friends who don't live on the reservation that it's OK to visit there. And to those on the reservation, our message is that you have much to offer."

Rounds said he wants to make American Indians a major part of his 2010 Initiative, aimed to improve the state's economy and quality of life.

"I want the Native American community to feel, as much as possible, that we care about them and recognize how valuable they are as a resource to the rest of the state," he said. "I want them to feel there's a better future ahead of them. And we want to promote economic development, regardless of your culture, language or religion. What unites us is that we all want something better for our kids than for ourselves."

South Dakota has made much progress in the past two years, Rounds said. The efforts include a trust fund of private donations for American Indian scholarships, the establishment of a nursing home on the reservation, work on hunting and fishing issues, and changes in tax compacts and highway construction projects.

The state and tribes are also working on an arrangement in which American Indian prisoners housed in county jails can be detained by tribal authorities and remain closer to family, Rounds said. And the state's prison system will show more respect to American Indian traditions, he said.

"We may not have been as sensitive to the traditional cultural and religious issues that Native Americans face, and we have made changes," the governor said.

In addition, the state and tribes are working more on child-support enforcement. And of a $4.1 million grant for infants and toddlers, one-third — $1.4 million — is going to the tribes. "We are trying to secure money for children," Rounds said.

The state is also providing 13 prisoner-built homes as tribal daycare centers, while the Yankton Sioux Tribe is trying to re-open its daycare center, Rounds said.

In addition, about 120 persons attended the recent South Dakota Indian Education Advisory Council meeting to improve learning for American Indian children, the governor said.

During the question-and-answer session, Rounds was asked about an effort in Congress to issue an apology to American Indians for past injustices. The governor said he would do whatever possible to help modern-day Indians.

"I can't change the past, but I can work with it," he said. "What can I do today to make things better for tomorrow?"

After the press conference, Travis Coleman, a Yankton Sioux enrolled with the Ponca tribe, said he was interested in Rounds' plans for education. "We have a lot of challenges, like No Child Left Behind," said Coleman, who plans to attend USD this fall.

Mayo Finch, a Nez Perce member from Oregon, said covering a governor was a new experience for him. He was learning more about South Dakota issues in preparation for the press conference.

As for the AIJI sessions, Finch said he anticipated learning a great deal. "I enjoy it, because it's intensive. It's easy to apply it to my education."

© 2004 Yankton (S.D.) Daily Press and Dakotan. Originally published June 8, 2004.


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