The Sioux people are the bedrock of South Dakota history, the chairman of the Sisseton Wapheton Oyate told lawmakers Thursday, who have enjoyed a sovereign relationship through treaties with the United States for more than 100 years.
“That’s not critical race. That’s history and humanity,” Delbert Hopkins Jr. said during the Legislature’s annual State of the Tribes Address.
Hopkins told lawmakers his tribe is trying to be more self-reliant when it comes to producing food and energy. But that requires good roads, culverts and bridges, and he asked lawmakers to collaborate with transportation planning.
Tribes could help alleviate crushing poverty and unemployment rates that exceed 50% in some places by promoting “cultural tourism.”
“Native nations must take the lead," he said. “Otherwise it’s not cultural. It’s not tourism. It’s exploitation.”
Hopkins noted Native youths have more absences from school and an achievement gap. But that gap can be closed when Native youths are immersed in Native education and language.
Hopkins also noted 400 children on his reservation need a new school, and the reservation’s population is expected to double in 20 years. He asked the Legislature to support its efforts to get a new school through the federal government.
By offering mutual respect, the tribes and the state government could accomplish good for all South Dakotans, he said.
Hopkins started his speech with a moment of silence for the Native victims of the coronavirus. Many tribal elders died from COVID-19, and across the country, Natives had a death rate of 2.5 times the non-Native population, he said.
“The COVID-19 virus has hit us hard,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Tribal chairman addresses South Dakota lawmakers on COVID, education