Kiwanjila | United as One: A Plan for Stronger Tribal-State Partnerships

Advocating for Native American communities should be a fundamental component of our roadmap to make South Dakota a state based on the shared values we have always held dear: honesty, integrity, hard work, the love of family, protecting our natural resources, celebrating community, and providing for our children. As governor of our great state, I will do all I can to ensure South Dakota Native Americans have access to quality education, economic opportunities, jobs, health care services, quality housing, and state government partnerships they need and deserve.

In my eight years in the legislature, I advocated for the Native communities I represented. My family and I have ties that go back generations with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the community of Eagle Butte, where my mother grew up and my grandmother taught kindergarten for nearly 50 years. My experiences have taught me that it is essential that people in positions of power in South Dakota listen to Native American communities and take the necessary actions to respond to their needs and challenges. That’s why I made sure to visit each and every tribe in South Dakota and meet with leaders in the community to listen to their concerns and ideas for a stronger South Dakota.

-Senator Billie Sutton

Tribal Sovereignty

Billie recognizes and appreciates the sovereign status of the nine Tribes of South Dakota. Tribal sovereignty will be front and center in any conversation around Native American issues. Understanding the history of the relationship between tribes and the federal government, especially around treaties and treaty obligations, is the necessary starting point.

A Strengthened Secretary of Tribal Relations

In Sutton’s administration, Indian Country will have a seat at the table. As governor, Billie will increase the resources and capacity of the cabinet-level position that focuses on Indian Affairs. This department must be a vibrant, effective vehicle for change in South Dakota’s executive branch. The Secretary of Tribal Relations has the potential to play a critical role in building a strong, lasting relationship between the State and its nine Tribal Nations. South Dakota must do better in raising state employees’ awareness of Native culture; communication protocol with tribal governments; tribal sovereignty; and jurisdiction. Governor Sutton’s office will facilitate an annual tribal relations training to educate the state government workforce on the guiding principles for working with tribes.

A Focus on Indigenous American Health Disparities

The United States has a trust responsibility to provide services to Native Americans, but Governor Sutton understands that coordination across all different levels of government is essential to ensuring the public’s health. Governor Sutton will assure that Native populations are not excluded from participation in any federal program, despite their relationship and reliance on Indian Health Services. To that end, Governor Sutton will pursue a public health infrastructure that includes Native representation and perspective.

Provide More Comprehensive Addiction Treatment for Meth, Opioids, and Alcohol

The impacts of addiction ripple out to families, communities, first responders, and employers, so improving our treatment options for people with addictions will have broad benefits for all South Dakotans. While law enforcement must be a part of the solution, simply filling our jails with people who really need treatment is not an effective solution. We must take this epidemic very seriously and work with people, communities, and organizations all over the state to find solutions that work for Indian Country. As Governor, Sutton will convene a work group to formulate a comprehensive plan to improve prevention and access to treatment for addicted individuals, including: improved first responder training; prevention among young people; more widely accessible treatment options for rural South Dakotans; and offering support to children and families of those receiving treatment. Sutton will take on the other issues impacting our meth problem too, including addiction, poverty, homelessness, suicide, school dropout, incarceration, and recidivism.

South Dakota Native Youth Suicide Reduction Strategic Plan

Native communities have significantly higher rates of suicide than non-Native communities.  Governor Sutton will develop evidence-based and culturally responsive programs aimed at reducing Native youth suicide across South Dakota. Within one year of office, Governor Sutton pledges to call upon partners to create a strategic plan on Native youth suicide reduction.

Economic Development in Indian Country

Governor Sutton recognizes that South Dakota’s Indian Country is a vibrant and important part of South Dakota’s economy, and Native people are an important part of today and tomorrow’s workforce. Governor Sutton also acknowledges that much has already been done to identify and grow economic opportunities in Indian Country.  Governor Sutton will invite business leaders to embark on a private-public partnership to build and implement an updated business plan that is inclusive to Indian Country.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Native women have been disappearing for generations. Shining a light on this issue is critical to enhancing and ensuring the safety of our women and girls. Governor Sutton will work to create a culture of respect and dignity around women in South Dakota. He will also coordinate with governmental, non-governmental, and international organizations with a goal of receiving effective recommendations. This commission will focus on the importance of inter-agency information sharing.

Working Together on Closing Jurisdictional Loopholes

Sutton will work alongside tribes and law enforcement to address the issue of jurisdiction, a concern on many tribal lands. Due to allotment policies dating back in the late 1800s, many of the tribes' land bases are checkerboarded. You can drive five miles on reservation land, then drive another five miles and you're on state land. There is an opportunity for collaboration with the tribes on helping close jurisdictional loopholes, perhaps by cross-deputizing tribal officers or state officers. However, we can only seriously discuss taking these steps after we build trust between state and tribal governments. As always, we must work closely alongside the tribes, finding mutually beneficial solutions.

Renewed Focus on the Issues that Matter

South Dakota must do everything it can to reduce poverty, increase the quality of education, expand housing options, improve access to physical and mental health care, and boost public safety and security in tribal communities. We cannot turn a blind eye to the things that matter to our Native citizens.

Open Channels of Communication

As Governor, Sutton will ensure that our federal delegation is appropriately informed on tribal issues so that they can work more effectively on our issues in Washington. He will also have an open-door policy, so that the Secretary of Tribal Relations and tribal governments can easily inform him of any issues or questions that may arise.

Celebrating Culture and Traditions

In South Dakota, we know that what makes us unique also makes us strong. We must move past tolerating our differences and begin to celebrate how our diversity can inform our strengthened and united path forward. Our histories and traditions are tied together to make South Dakota a place where Wacipi and rodeos happen in tandem and folks stand for both the "Lakota Honor Song" and "Star Spangled Banner” at major ceremonies. As governor, Billie Sutton will work to celebrate all of South Dakota’s cultures and traditions including those of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota peoples, uniting us around both what we have in common and what we have to share.

Record of Cooperation and Partnership

Just as important as Sutton’s plans for the future is his record of showing up for Indian Country in the past. Over his eight years in the legislature, Sutton always represented Native communities and fought for solutions to Native issues. He supported legislation that increased Native representation and equality in state government five times. He supported bills to increase access and quality of education for Native students nine times. He supported increased access to and quality of care for Natives four times. He sponsored and cosponsored legislation to examine economic opportunity and development in Indian Country and to ensure due process for Native children and families. He’s voted to celebrate and protect Native culture and traditions several times over. He has traveled to and met with leaders of all nine tribes in South Dakota and received the endorsement of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association. Senator Sutton has time and again proven his commitment to Indian Country, and will continue that commitment as governor.

We can do better than the status quo and politics as usual. Our best days are ahead of us – if we make sure everyone shares in South Dakota’s success.