The following is the opinion of Sen. John Thune (R-South
As people across South Dakota celebrate Native American Day, we
reflect on the important contributions of Native Americans to our
state's history and culture. The richness of the Lakota, Dakota, and
Nakota traditions are a significant part of what makes South Dakota
such a special place. I believe that to truly honor this legacy,
federal, state, and tribal leaders must continue working together to
find solutions for the challenges facing many tribal communities today.
One of the biggest challenges facing South Dakota's tribes is the lack
of public safety that exists in many communities. In most cases, a
lack of resources prevents communities from retaining the number of
law enforcement personnel necessary to provide basic public safety
services. Fortunately, there are mechanisms that Congress can use to
address the lack of funding in critical tribal law enforcement areas.
Last year I included an amendment in a foreign assistance bill that
created the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. This fund is
authorized to spend $2 billion on public safety, health, and water
projects in Indian country between 2009 and 2013. However, Congress
must pass legislation appropriating money into the fund. This year's
Interior Appropriations bill did include increased funding for public
safety programs and public safety infrastructure development in Indian
Country, but I believe that South Dakota's tribal communities would be
better served if this money was put into the Emergency Fund for Indian
Safety and Health so it could more directly address areas with the
most pressing law enforcement shortages.
While the shortage of resources is a significant challenge facing
tribal law enforcement, a lack of personnel is also detrimental to
public safety. It is unreasonable to expect that very few officers
will be able to adequately police reservations that are larger than
some states. One reason for this shortage is that the maximum hiring
age for federal law enforcement officers is 38 years. The minimum
retirement age with full benefits for military personnel is 37 years.
This means that the BIA and other federal law enforcement agencies
cannot hire retired military personnel as officers.
There are many Native American retired military veterans who would be
well qualified to serve as BIA law enforcement officers. The Defense
Authorization bill passed earlier this year by the Senate included an
amendment that would allow the BIA to hire retired military personnel
as law enforcement officers, and I sent a letter to Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar urging him to develop a plan for implementing this
provision as soon as it became law. Unfortunately, the provision was
removed from the final Defense Authorization bill. Nevertheless, I am
committed to making this simple policy change a reality and have
included a similar provision in the Tribal Law and Order Act which was
introduced in the Senate earlier this year.
Native American Day is an opportunity for all South Dakotans to
reflect on the importance of tribal history and culture to our state.
While reflection and celebration is important, real action is also
necessary to combat the serious challenges facing our tribal
communities today. I will continue working with tribal leaders to
ensure that their views are well represented in the U. S. Senate. All
Americans deserve safe, healthy, and prosperous communities, and we
can work together to make it a reality for all South Dakotans.
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