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Bills would allow SD Native Americans to hunt, fish and visit state parks for free

Both bills were proposed by Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

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Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, shown on the floor of the House of Representatives, wants to waive fees for South Dakota Native Americans for hunting, fishing, camping and visiting state parks.
Photo courtesy Shawn Bordeaux on Facebook via South Dakota News Watch

Native Americans from South Dakota would be able to hunt or fish anywhere in the state for free and visit or camp in state parks without paying fees under two bills under consideration by the state Legislature.

House Bill 1141 would allow enrolled members of a federally recognized Indian tribe located entirely or partially in South Dakota to be exempt from fees for hunting or fishing licenses, permits or stamps. House Bill 1142 would allow those same tribal members to be exempt from fees to enter or camp in state parks.

Both bills were proposed by Rep. Shawn Bordeaux , D-Mission, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Bordeaux said he proposed the state park fee waiver for Natives after seeing that Minnesota had enacted a law waiving park entrance fees for tribal members starting this year. New York state waives hunting and fishing fees for enrolled tribal members, according to state law.

In an interview with News Watch, Bordeaux said tribal members should have free access to state parks and recreation areas once inhabited by their ancestors, as many of those lands retain cultural and spiritual significance among Native Americans. Bordeaux said tribal members should also be allowed to hunt and fish without fees, just as they did before the state was settled by Europeans. Treaties signed between Indian tribes and the federal government generations ago guaranteed such rights, but have been ignored by South Dakota and other states, he said.

“We feel like we should be able to go the state parks because it’s our land, and it was taken from us,” said Bordeaux, an administrator at Sinte Gleska University in Mission. “Is it too much to ask for our Legislature and state to say, ‘OK, we recognize that all this land was yours, so we’re going to make it free to card-carrying Natives’?”

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State park entrance fees are $8 daily or $36 annually for one vehicle; camping fees range from $15 to $26 per night. Resident fishing fees are $8 per day or $28 per year; resident hunting fees vary, but common fees are $33 for pheasant and small game and $40 for many deer licenses.

“For a family, it’s really expensive, and these are depressed areas, some of the poorest counties in the nation where we live,” he said. “And when you’re putting deer as food on your table or your grandma’s table, there’s a real need for this.”

Bordeaux said the fiscal impacts would be minimal. Officials with the Department of Natural Resources in Minnesota estimate the

“We feel like it’s not going to cost a whole of money, it’s a nice gesture, and it’s a thing that can go a long ways toward reconciliation to bring our peoples together,” Bordeaux said. “It’s a little carrot, but if it’s the only carrot in your view, it’s substantial enough to see it as something important.”

Both measures have been referred to the House State Affairs Committee, but as of Feb. 1 had not had a hearing.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks , which runs state parks and regulates hunting and fishing, had not taken a position on the two bills as of Jan. 31, according to spokesman Nick Harrington.

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South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department
Mitchell Republic

State law allows for some exceptions to park-entrance fees, Harrington said, including for disabled veterans or former prisoners of war. Some tribal members do not have to pay entrance fees to state parks or recreation areas within their boundaries.

The state Hunting Handbook also notes that state hunting licenses are not valid on reservation lands, and that tribal licenses are not valid on non-reservation lands. Active military and disabled people receive free or reduced fishing access.

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Most Indian tribes in South Dakota and across the U.S. already allow members to hunt and fish on reservation lands without a fee, though they are still subject to permitting requirements, bag limits and other restrictions set by tribal governments, said Remi Bald Eagle, intergovernmental affairs coordinator for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

But Bald Eagle said that for the Cheyenne River tribe, treaties signed in the 1800s should allow tribal members to hunt and fish without state licensing through all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River, but Bald Eagle said state laws do not recognize the full language or intent of the treaties of 1851 and 1868.

Bald Eagle, speaking for himself and not on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said passage of the bills would mainly serve as acknowledgment of the treaties and of respect for Native Americans.

“It really weighs on our hearts more than it does economically, to not be welcomed, to not be allowed to go onto our land as we see fit,” Bald Eagle said.

Rep. Jennifer Keintz, D-Eden, said she signed on as a co-sponsor of both Native fee-waiver bills because she sees the measures as a gesture of goodwill and reconciliation toward Native Americans in South Dakota.

“It has to be painful for a lot of Native Americans to be charged a fee to access lands that were stolen from their ancestors,” said Keintz, who works in real estate. “I know that waiving these fees won’t change that past … and maybe it’s only a small gesture, but it’s not insignificant."

Keintz also noted that Gov. Kristi Noem has sought to eliminate fees the state charges to developers or businesses, and that the Legislature is often looking for ways to reduce or eliminate fees paid by residents.

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Native Americans in South Dakota may choose to practice religious or cultural ceremonies in state parks if they are granted free admission, which could provide educational or culture enrichment opportunities for other park visitors, some lawmakers say.
Photo courtesy South Dakota News Watch

Increasing inclusiveness and creating more equity for Native Americans was clearly part of the impetus for the removal of state-park fees in Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Walz recommended the fee waiver. The law extended existing fee waivers from known sacred sites within state parks to the entire state-park system.

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In an email to News Watch, Minnesota DNR spokesman Jamie McBride said the agency has recently hired a tribal liaison officer, implemented a tribal-relations working team and provided Native culture, history and sovereignty training to DNR employees.

“Strengthening tribal relationships is a strategic priority for the Minnesota DNR,” McBride wrote.

South Dakota state Rep. Tamara St. John , R-Sisseton, an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe who is also co-chair of the state Tribal Relations Committee, said she understands and appreciates the argument that tribal members should have free and open access to lands they once inhabited and often see as spiritual sites.

“These are all the homelands to indigenous people and these lands have the footprints of indigenous people,” said St. John.

Bald Eagle said passage of the fee waivers might attract more Native Americans to state parks, and some may wish to perform religious ceremonies in parks. But he said the practice would likely become more of a “novelty” that would rarely be repeated.

“If something like this were to pass, it would stoke the curiosity of many people and we would go to put our feet in the grass and say, ‘Can it really be?’” Bald Eagle said. “It would be nice to be able to walk on our homelands without the necessity to pay for it' to gather medicine or to do ceremony.”

Bordeaux said that even if his fee waivers do not pass this legislative session, it is important to start a conversation. “This will happen; it might take 10 or 15 years, but I do believe these bills will pass eventually.”

— This article was produced by South Dakota News Watch, a non-profit journalism organization located online at SDNewsWatch.org.

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