The Native Voice and Vote Essential to South Dakota

SIOUX FALLS, SD (November 23, 2020) – The Native American vote in South Dakota is important and essential to the future of South Dakota. When you look at the 2020 General Election results, there are islands of progressive blue throughout the state. Most of these islands are counties located on nine of the Lakota/Dakota Sioux reservations.
How important is the Native vote? Take a look at Arizona: 52,192 Navajo Nation citizens voted in the Grand Canyon State with 82 percent of their votes (which totaled 42,545) going to Joe Biden. Biden won Arizona by 10,016 votes. The Native vote flipped the state; this being only the second time in more than seven decades that this has occurred.
These numbers are only of Navajo voters living on the reservation in Arizona- the Navajo reservation lands extend into New Mexico and Utah. Most Navajo citizens do not live on the reservation- they live in cities such as Phoenix, Denver, Albuquerque, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
How does that relate to what is happening in South Dakota? There is an estimated 90,000 (over 10% of the total population) Native American citizens in South Dakota, and much like the Navajo, most of their population reside off the reservation, in areas such as Rapid City and Sioux Falls. Their votes and voices matter, and they have made it clear that representation at the state level is vital. This general election, Native voters re-elected Senators Troy Heinert (Rosebud Sioux) and Red Dawn Foster (Oglala Sioux), and Representatives Peri Pourier (Oglala Sioux) and Shawn Bordeaux (Rosebud Sioux).
In the statewide races, candidates Dan Ahlers and Remi Bald Eagle lauded the Native voter turnout, some of the highest in history. Remi is Mnicoujou Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and was the Democratic candidate for Public Utilities Commissioner. He also serves on the South Dakota Democratic Native Caucus, the first of its kind within the party.
Remi worked tirelessly to get many of his tribal citizens registered to vote and dedicates his time to encouraging Native participation at the state level.
“Indigenous voices matter and are too often ignored, shunned or suppressed. This year, however, no one could ignore our voices. Look across Indian Country and you will see that most tribal nations voted blue. That is also the case here in South Dakota. It is important that we work together and most importantly, listen to the concerns and voices of indigenous people,” stated Remi.
Dan, this year’s sole US Senatorial Democrat candidate, made it a point during his campaign to visit as many tribal leaders and reservations as he could. His travels took him to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Cheyenne River Sioux and Pine Ridge reservations. He met with tribal leaders who offered insight on issues impacting their nation as well as their expectations from South Dakota leadership.
“I am grateful and thankful for all the tribes who invited me out to the reservation and for their hospitality. The information, education, and honesty they shared are important to me. The Native people in South Dakota are underrepresented and underserved. In order for things to change, their voices need to be heard,” said Dan.
Cante Heart (Sicangu Lakota/Ihanktowan Dakota/Winnebago Hochunk) has served as the South Dakota Democratic Party Native Outreach Field Director since coming onboard in mid-August. She hit the ground running working with tribal nations and local volunteers.
Ever-driven, Cante teamed up with Kellen Returns From Scout (Standing Rock Sioux) to develop the Protect Sovereignty Initiative. Together, the duo held voter registration drives at four reservations throughout the state. The pair also offered voter education on ballot initiatives, provided information about candidates, and created a successful Get Out And Vote digital campaign.
One of the largest events was held in Rapid City. Despite cold temperatures, hundreds of people attended the affair which featured local and statewide Democratic candidates.
The Lakota language was an important element of the event- prayer, song, and speeches were conducted in native languages, an experience that touched many of the Lakota elders in attendance. Cante’s father, Travis Harden, a renowned singer, invited all the candidates on stage before he performed a song in their honor. The infusion and inclusion of Native culture, language, and prayer unified everyone- people who came from all different walks of life, beliefs, and spiritual backgrounds. It was a wonderful example of how respect, acceptance, and cooperation build community and trust.
The Protect Sovereignty Initiative helped register over 4,000 voters in South Dakota and played an important part of the increase in the Native voter turnout during this year’s general election.
The islands of blue that you see following the 2020 South Dakota’s election results are important and they represent the voices of a people who deserve representation, partnership and respect. The Native American Caucus is just one way the Democratic Party has created a central space for indigenous voices.
The party platform includes the acknowledgement and duty of working to improve tribal relations within the state. The South Dakota Democratic Party recognizes the inherent sovereignty of the people and Tribal Nations of the Oceti Sakowin, the original inhabitants of this land. SDDP members advocate for regular meaningful and fair consultation between tribal, state and federal officials regarding culture, health, economics, education, and other issues such as: protection of water, air, land, animals, people, and sacred sites.
We invite you to view the party platform in full at Indigenous lives matter and we invite you to acknowledge how important the Native vote is in South Dakota. Most importantly, Native people are welcomed into to the South Dakota Democratic Party and we look forward to working with them side by side.
Pam Cole, SDDP Executive Director

Please direct questions to SDDP Executive Director Pam Cole via email or phone (605) 695-1996.