Crow Creek tribal chairman touches on winter storms, social studies standards in address to SD lawmakers
Peter Lengkeek, the Crow Creek chairman, used his audience with the legislature to stress the need for stronger dialogue in solving the shared issues facing tribal and non-tribal communities.
PIERRE, S.D. — Though critical of several recent actions by the legislature and state government, Peter Lengkeek, the chairman of the Crow Creek Tribe, laced a hopeful message through his State of the Tribes address to the joint chambers on the afternoon of Jan. 12.
“The needs of Indian Country are shared by all South Dakotans,” Lengkeek said as part of a message of unity, pointing out that the issues on reservations are shared by many rural areas of the state.
Near the middle of his speech, the chairman offered a moment of silence for the weather-related deaths on the Rosebud Sioux reservation during the winter storms last month.
“A single loss is too many,” Lengkeek said. “If we are able to collaborate and work in partnership successfully in the future, we must address and correct the dynamics of our relationship.”
Lengkeek’s major policy prescriptions included re-thinking the current set of proposed social studies standards — specifically a need to properly recognize the contributions of the nine tribal nations to the state’s history — and further investments in education and mental health services on reservations.
“We need to work together to ensure that our children have access to mental health services in schools,” Lengkeek said, offering tribal input on any stakeholder meetings seeking to address the need for counselors.
One piece of legislation in that vein, House Bill 1044, is now heading to the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill seeks to address workforce issues in the field by putting $20 million toward scholarships for students looking to make their career in behavioral health in South Dakota.
“All of these issues come back to workforce,” Sen. Erin Tobin, the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate, told Forum News Service about the bill in November.
Lengkeek, a former Marine, also requested that the state finish the planned Code Talkers memorial on the South Dakota State Capitol grounds, honoring the hundreds of South Dakota tribal members who used their knowledge of tribal language during World War I and World War II to send coded messages and protect key pieces of intelligence.
While Lengkeek took a critical tone to many of the legislature’s actions — including deriding legislation on critical race theory and transgender athletes as superfluous when considering more pressing state needs — several legislators appreciated his forceful delivery and understanding of the issues.
“He was very humble in his approach but spot on about the issues,” Rep. Linda Duba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, said after the speech.
But that feeling was not secluded to one side of the aisle. Joe Donnel, a first-term Republican whose district contains the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, appreciated the focus on establishing communication on issues like drug addiction.
“I think he hit on several of the issues, in my line of work I see the opioid pandemic and the meth pandemic up close,” said Donnell, who works in the addiction services industry. “And I liked his overall approach, I think it was done in a way where hopefully we can establish a conversation.”