PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The Lower Brule Sioux chairman on Thursday urged South Dakota lawmakers to expand the Medicaid health coverage program and work with tribes to fight methamphetamine use.
Chairman Boyd Gourneau said in the third State of the Tribes address that he’s seen firsthand the destruction that meth has on people’s lives.
“It does not discriminate, and it is not only found in reservation communities,” Gourneau said. “If there was ever an issue that the tribe and state should band together on, it is to combat meth use within our state.”
Gourneau said officials can also work together to help the state and save the lives of Native Americans through Medicaid expansion. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard had worked under Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency to expand the program, but dropped the push after the 2016 election.
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Gourneau said before exploring combined efforts on meth, health care and other issues, the relationship between the state and the tribes needs to be solidified with frequent, relevant conversations and actions.
Gourneau said he was “fortunate” to have been influenced by late Lower Brule Chairman Michael Jandreau and former Gov. George S. Mickelson, who died in an airplane crash in 1993. Mickelson had declared 1990 a “Year of Reconciliation,” and Gourneau said he laid the foundation for what is now known as state-tribal relations.
Since that proclamation, there have been “shining examples” of how state and tribal people can move forward together, Gourneau said. He praised a new initiative at South Dakota State University that aims to increase the number of students at the school from the nine tribal nations in the state.
But Gourneau said some people still hold onto racial biases against Native Americans in South Dakota, but turning a blind eye only allows that mentality to continue. Subjecting fellow residents to racist acts and comments is detrimental to improving relations and reconciliation, Gourneau said.
“We are all South Dakotans. Our state is rightfully named after the original inhabitants in this area,” Gourneau said. “The people on our reservations are farmers, ranchers, college graduates, employees and taxpayers, and simply put, your average South Dakotans.”
He also highlighted Lower Brule’s successes in areas such as agriculture with Lakota Foods popcorn. The tribe’s headquarters is in Lower Brule, and roughly 1,300 enrolled members live on the Lower Brule Reservation in central South Dakota.
Last legislative session, Chairman Robert Flying Hawk of the Yankton Sioux Tribe gave the address.
Democratic Sen. Kevin Killer, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it’s among the best ways to build connections between tribal and non-Native communities across the state while also acknowledging that tribal governments have a voice and a seat at the table.