South Dakota Democratic Party honors former Senator Theresa Two Bulls

By Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle 

PIERRE, SD (March 8, 2021) — On International Women’s Day, the South Dakota Democratic Party celebrated the extraordinary life and service of the late Theresa “Huck” Two Bulls, who was the first Native American female state senator in South Dakota. 

Theresa (Wiyaka Tokeheya Yuha Najin) was a prolific leader and trailblazer who spent her life committed to service and uplifting everyone around her. Those who knew Theresa recall her warmth, hospitality, and love for her Lakota people and way of life. Colleagues who worked with Theresa remember that at the heart of everything she did was The People. 

When Theresa made her journey into the Spirit World this past November, countless tributes to her were shared across the nation. Her life and leadership had impacted many people and influenced state and tribal policies for the greater good. 

Theresa was born Oct. 23, 1949 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota to Gayle Two Bulls and Theresa Weston. Growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation created the strong foundation that directed Theresa’s dedication to service and leadership style. Active in her community, Theresa implemented the seven Lakota values of wocekiya/prayer, waohola/respect, waonsila/compassion, wowijake/honesty, wawokiye/generosity, wahwala/humility, and woksape/wisdom) in everything she did. 

It was not long before she began organizing grassroots initiatives and became politically active. When South Dakota Sen. George McGovern ran for U.S. president, she volunteered to register and organized get out to vote events. She did the same when Rep. Jim Abourezk ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Her dedication to mobilizing indigenous voters in every Democratic and tribal election spanned over 50 years. 

A natural leader, it came as no surprise that Theresa was elected to four terms to the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, and served as Secretary of the Executive Committee. And if that weren’t enough, she was also elected as the tribal nation’s vice-president.

Education was important to Theresa and she forged forth with her academics, eventually attending law school. After graduating from Haskell Indian University, she worked as an attorney and in 2003, became a tribal prosecutor for the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General. The very next year she ran as a Democrat for state senate to represent the 27th district and won. She had become the first Native American woman legislator in the history of South Dakota. Her accomplishment was much bigger than just her, as Theresa articulated in a 2005 interview.

“I wanted to show our women and girls what was possible. And now I’ve created a path for you to follow,” she said.

During her two terms, Senator Two Bulls served on the State/Tribal Relations Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, and the State-Local Government Committee. She also served on a national task force under the Office of Violence Against Women to assist the Department of Justice in developing guidelines for a study on violence against Native American women. Her input and guidance were instrumental to implement resulting recommendations.

In 2008, Theresa was elected as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe — only the second time a woman served in this position. As tribal president, Theresa’s work for her nation included successfully lobbying for federal funding, addressing mental and behavioral health, and obtaining stimulus funds during the Great Recession. 

The youth were very special to her heart so when an epidemic of teen suicides ravaged the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Theresa quickly declared a state of emergency, gathered counselors and implemented a suicide prevention plan. In a time of much uncertainty, darkness and grief, Theresa urged love and family as a fundamental response to the suicide epidemic.

“We must hug our children. We must tell them we love them. A lot of these youth do not get a hug every day. They are never told that they’re loved. We need to start being parents and grandparents to them,” she said. 

Theresa’s leadership directed the Oglala Sioux Tribe through tumultuous times. She was a leader when the people needed leadership most. Even after her political terms ended, she remained an outspoken community groundbreaker, a grassroots organizer, and matriarch to her family.

Countless people mourned the news of Theresa’s passing on Nov. 21, 2019. On Dec. 7, flags at the State Capitol were flown at half-staff in her honor, and on Jan. 21, 2020, she was remembered during the South Dakota Legislature’s Joint Memorial Service. 

During the last week of the legislative session, the South Dakota Democratic Party honored the extraordinary life and service of Theresa Two Bulls. A memorial star quilt was commissioned for Theresa’s family and was presented to two of her children, Shawna and Will. 

Read the commemoration here:

SDDP Chair Randy Seiler shared his sentiments about the amazing woman who made history, “Robert F. Kennedy said, ‘The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.’ Theresa’s life certainly met this goal. She took great pride in being a Democrat and the South Dakota Democratic Party was made better and stronger by her leadership and message of justice, democracy, and hope. Her voice and message inspired generations of young leaders ‘to work to make things better’ and we should all strive for and commit to following Theresa’s legacy.”

Please direct questions to SDDP Vice Chair Nikki Gronli
via email or phone (605) 376-3337.