Sisseton-Wahpeton chairman calls for 'history and humanity' in South Dakota speech

The state of the tribes address has annually been apart of the opening week of the South Dakota legislative session.

FSA South Dakota capitol
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PIERRE — Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Chairman Delbert Hopkins Jr. delivered a subtle retort to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, telling a joint session of the Legislature that a state borrowing its name from tribal people should also not shy away from teaching Indigenous curriculum in the classroom.

"That's not critical race," Hopkins said. "That's history and humanity."

Hopkins made his remarks in a brief state of the tribes address Thursday, Jan. 13, which traditionally falls on the third day of the new legislative session. On Tuesday, Noem told the same body she would back a bill to teach "patriotic" education .

Hopkins also waded into other, national political waters before the largely Republican Legislature, saying he endorsed the federal child tax credit, which expired last month after congressional inaction . Additionally, Hopkins called on the Legislature to support federal programs to stimulate green jobs in Indian Country.

The state of the tribes address comes on the heels of a tribal affairs committee hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 12, in which lawmakers heard updates on a number of state-run programs, including a tourism initiative. In Thursday's speech, Hopkins reminded lawmakers to recognize tribal sovereignty in developing any plan.


"Our Native nations must take the lead on cultural tourism, otherwise it's not tourism," Hopkins said. "It's cultural exploitation."

Tribal relations under Noem have been strained since the governor sought to block checkpoints on highways crossing reservations during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August, Noem's Department of Education scuttled a state history standards revision process by deleting numerous references to tribal history and culture.

One source of agreement between tribal leaders and the Noem administration had been her signing of a bill last spring to establish a liaison in the Attorney General's Office to focus efforts in resolving the large number of missing Indigenous persons in the state.

In speaking before the tribal affairs committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg acknowledged his staff had yet to hire the liaison, and had not joined tribal nations in soliciting federal funding for the job's salary. He referred to the post as an "unfunded mandate."

During questioning, Rep. Peri Pourier , D-Pine Ridge, said she wasn't "interested in finger-pointing," but wanted to see greater efforts at filling this position.

Hopkins also touched on the epidemics of addiction and unemployment on tribal lands in South Dakota and called the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis a "scourge." He urged lawmakers for "mutual respect and understanding" with tribal partners over the next two-month session.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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