A giant baby step was taken last week-end which may help Native American tribal and State government improve cooperation and understanding.

First, a little background. Tribal governments, and property, are sovereign, according to federal treaties and law. From my perspective, the federal government has not always acted honorably when dealing with the tribes. The distrust by Native Americans started before the original Wounded Knee. There has been tension for decades in our state, boiling over with the second Wounded Knee in 1973.

The conflicts between and tribes and state government are many. Gaming permits and  child welfare and foster care, have been the most recent.  Issues of license plates, driver's licenses, fishing and hunting licenses, state vs. federal vs. tribal law enforcement and court jurisdiction have all been or are continuing to be discussed.

Governor George Mickelson dedicated a year and more to "Reconcilation." Progress was being made. While the effort did not die when he did, in 1993, succeeding governor's did not have the emphasis or understanding Mickelson did.

Now the giant baby step. According to the most recent column by Governor Daugaard, the South Dakota Highway Patrol was asked (my emphasis)by leadership of the Crow Creek Tribe to assist with law enforcement and crowd control at the 150th Anniversary Powwow, celebrating the founding of Fort Thompson, headquarters of the tribe.

Because of the large crowd expected, Tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue and the Tribal Council  requested the assistance. A political risk for those elected officials. However, they decided to put the safety of their guests and tribal members first.                 

  The Highway Patrol offered five troopers and two police service dogs and handlers for the week-end event.

According to the column from the Governor:

By all accounts, the  joint operation succeeded beyond expectations. Troopers learned some of the  customs and history of the Crow Creek Tribe. BIA law enforcement officers and  troopers had the chance to know each other on a personal level, as well as  professionally. And those attending the pow-wow had a chance to see troopers as  people, not just officers in uniform. Troopers assisted in law enforcement and  traffic control, sure. They also brought to the reservation the rollover  simulator, a seatbelt safety demonstrator. They served coffee and pancakes, took  part in raising and lowering the flags and interacted with the people  constantly, especially with the children.

The Highway Patrol Troopers involved have volunteered to do it again, if asked.

Tribal leaders said  pow-wow attendees saw the troopers as people who respected the tribal  members and their culture.

The Governor's column concluded:

None of us is naïve  enough to think one event on one weekend will change decades of distrust.  Improving race relations is an ongoing, difficult task. It requires persistence,  by all involved. It also requires some risk, reaching out and getting to know  each other and beginning to trust each other. At the Crow Creek pow-wow last  weekend, a group of good-hearted people did reach out. It’s a small step yet an  important one. We can be hopeful.

Every journey begins with a step, even a baby one. Hope we can take more.