On Thursday, May 24, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier, serving as the chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, hosted Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke and senior staff at Wakpa Sica in Fort Pierre.
Representatives from ten tribes from the Great Plains were present at the meeting, including the Omaha and Winnebago tribes.
Chairman Frazier greeted Secretary Zinke who was escorted by veterans carrying the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Veteran staff.
Councilman Royal Yellow Hawk, from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, offered prayer to begin the meeting and introductions were given to the Secretary and everyone in attendance.
After introducing himself, Secretary Zinke, whose Assiniboine name is Seal Leader, explained his view of tribal sovereignty and reorganization of the Department of Interior. The Secretary stated that Tribal sovereignty does not mean a thing if the Tribes are not free to exercise their sovereignty.
The Secretary asked the Tribes to participate in the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of Special Trustee, which are not currently part of the Department of Interior reorganization.
“The BIA is the only federal agency that deals directly with people,” Secretary Zinke said
Tribal leaders spoke to the Secretary about issues that directly affect their individual tribes.
Chairman Boyd Gorneau, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, expounded on issues affecting law enforcement shortages, and Oglala Sioux Tribal Councilman CJ Clifford talked about education and the value of treaties with the United States.
Winnebago Chairman Frank White informed Secretary Zinke that the Department of Interior has been in a constant state change and the current reorganization under the Trump administration is not a new concept; however, Tribes have had to constantly adapt to the different agency and department changes.
Chairman Michael Wolfe, of the Omaha Tribe, emphasized that the Tribes have survived the onslaught of the American government for generations. Wolfe also stated that tribal members are treated worse than any other demographic in terms of health care and education.
“We have survived and the U.S. can no longer say a good Indian is a dead Indian, because we have learned the American ways. We are still here and not going away,” Wolfe said.
Tribal leaders discussed other topics including education, emergency hospital service, law enforcement, corrections facilities, transportation, infrastructure, BIA organization, judicial systems and support, Forest Service Land, AUM on grazing leases, Indian Land Consolidation funds, opiate and methamphetamine addiction and rehab, BIA funding, federal health benefits for teachers in tribal schools, elder care facilities, suicide, and oil pipelines.
“I have been an elected official for many years and this is the first time I have ever seen a Secretary of Interior on our trust land talking with us. If this federal administration is serious about economic development, then develop it on the reservations,” Chairman Frazier said.