Though they represent separate nations, the chairmen of the Crow Creek Sioux and Lower Brule Sioux tribes expressed their shared concerns with one of South Dakota's congressmen Monday over lunch at the Golden Buffalo Casino.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., met with Crow Creek Chairman Lester Thompson and Lower Brule Chairman Boyd Gourneau in between attending a meeting of the Crow Creek Housing Authority, touring erosion along Lower Brule's shoreline and speaking at a town hall in Oacoma.
"We realize he's one of 435 representatives, but at least he took the time to come and see us," Gourneau told The Daily Republic on Tuesday morning. "It's much appreciated for him to come to our homeland. Who could ask for more than that?"
While Johnson has visited the Sisseton Wahpeton and Rosebud Sioux tribes since taking office and will have visited eight of the state's nine reservations by the end of this month, Monday marked his first visits as a U.S. congressman to the two reservations adjacent to the Missouri River.
A spokesperson for Thompson said the chairman appreciated Johnson coming to see life in Crow Creek firsthand and at a personal level. Johnson said he was updated on a the importance of several funding programs that are important to life for tribal members, and the housing authority discussed plans to develop single-family homes on the reservation, where there is currently a shortage of housing.
"During the August work period, I think it's important to go out and look the bosses in the eye and chat with them about the issues that matter to them," Johnson said. "That puts me all over the state."
One issue discussed Monday was that of the number of law enforcement officers allocated to each tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Johnson said part of the problem is that it takes a year to complete a background check on a prospective BIA officer, during which time many applicants have to find other jobs.
"Across rural South Dakota, where we have so much geography, there are often concerns about coverage: how do we make sure that we have the law enforcement officers close enough to respond when we need them to?" he said. "But particularly in Indian country, there is a frustration that BIA and law enforcement doesn't work like it should."
The number of law enforcement officers allocated to each tribe is done at the federal level by the BIA, and Gourneau said that because BIA officers are federal officers, there are times when officers might be moved to another reservation, such as Standing Rock, as needed, putting stress on both the officers and the tribes.
"We're doing what we can with Crow Creek, but they've got to realize that we are two separate nations," he said. "Two separate constitutions; two separate sets of laws. It's probably tough on officers, enforcing both our laws."
On Monday afternoon, Johnson toured Lower Brule alongside the Missouri River, an area that has experienced significant erosion in recent years. Gourneau told The Daily Republic that up to 200 acres of reservation acres have fallen into the river per year, and he wants to take action to stabilize the river banks to avoid having to relocate tribal members.
"Clearly, that's an issue where the federal government has to be working with the tribe," Johnson said. "The Corps of Engineers would have jurisdiction over that shoreline, and we need to make sure that we're doing a better job at helping to maintain and secure that shoreline."
Johnson said his visits throughout Buffalo and Lyman counties on Monday also included discussions of governmental programs to assist at-risk youth and about suicide and drug addition, which have been epidemic nationwide and have not passed over South Dakota's reservations.
"He has the same goal as us, and that's to try to create a better quality of life for our people," Gourneau said. "We're South Dakotans also."