By Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
Children tend to be trusting to the point that they need to be taught to avoid strangers. Adults sometimes go to the opposite extreme, quick to mistrust anyone they don't know.
I often think that has been the case in the relationship between Native American people and non-Indians in South Dakota for far too long. Many of us grow up in separate communities. We seldom interact, and we don't get a chance to know each other as people. We grow up not trusting each other.
A small yet important step toward changing that happened this past weekend at the annual pow-wow of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. This year's pow-wow marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of Fort Thompson, the headquarters of the tribe. Anticipating a large crowd for the event, Chairman Brandon Sazue and the Tribal Council reached out to the South Dakota Highway Patrol to lend a hand with law enforcement and crowd control.
State authority of any kind on tribal land has long been a sensitive issue, so the council and the chairman knew they were taking a risk. They did it for the safety of their citizens. The Highway Patrol responded enthusiastically, offering five troopers and two police service dogs with handlers for the weekend.
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.
Troopers involved already have volunteered to return next year if invited. Tribal leaders said pow-wow attendees saw the troopers as humans, people who respected the tribal members and their culture.
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.