Native Sun News: Rep. Herseth Sandlin campaigns at Pine Ridge
The following story was written and reported by Randall Howell. All content © Native Sun News.

PINE RIDGE, SOUTH DAKOTA — For about an hour last week, everyone in Pine Ridge’s Billy Mills Hall was a Democrat.

That’s because a self-described “friend of the Lakota” was in Pine Ridge stumping for support in an effort to win re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the upcoming mid-term election on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) told a supportive audience that the Indian vote in South Dakota had helped her win her last election and that she was “counting on it to do the same thing” this time around.

“Once again, we’re in a close race in this election. And I need your support,” the two-term congresswoman told more than 200 Oglala Sioux Tribal members, who had gathered for a chili-and-frybread lunchtime rally on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Herseth Sandlin’s challenger is Kristi Noem, the Republican Party’s nominated candidate for the U.S. House. Recent polls have indicated the race has the candidates in a dead heat with only weeks to go before the mid-term election.

“I’m proud of my record and proud of the work we’ve done together in Congress,” she said, noting that Oglala Sioux Tribal President Theresa Two Bulls “has done an outstanding job working with me” in Washington, DC.

However, it was some time before the incumbent congresswoman was able to speak, given the list of statewide under-card candidates who attended the event and were invited to address the rally. Many, of course, went well beyond the two-minute time limit set by Sonny Richards, master of ceremonies for the rally.

Nonetheless several from the rally audience had comments on the campaign. “Tell the entire reservation that Pine Ridgers need to get out and support Herseth Sandlin,” said Cedric Young Bear.

“We care about our nation,” said Kevin Killer, a Pine Ridge Indian Reservation advance man for the congresswoman. “Half the population is under 18 years of age. If we are not active now to support our values, it’s going to be much more difficult to get those young people involved in 10 to 20 years.”

Killer also reminded the crowd that “five and six-year-olds cannot vote, so we have to set an example of leadership and involvement.”

“Part of our strategy is to get more Natives elected more in Pierre and Washington, DC and locally,” said Killer, who surrendered the mic to state Sen. Jim Bradford.

“We need to get out and show her (Herseth Sandlin) that we want her back in,” said Sen. Bradford. “She’s done so much for us. Without Stephanie and Sen. Tim Johnson getting that money down here, South Dakota would be on its knees.” Sen. Johnson, also a Democrat, is not running for re-election this year.

Bradford also spoke to the issue of American Indian education.

“We need to have a heavy emphasis on education,” he said. “Our children are behind. They are using them to get money, then not spending it on education for them. We have got to get this lady re-elected. It’s so important.”

Herseth Sandlin told rally attendees that over the course of her six years in Congress, Indian country has “empowered me to represent you” in Washington, DC.

“This nation has voted for me, as did the eight others. And I’ve worked to be a strong voice on your behalf,” she said.

“We have worked together to get American Indians in key positions to assure that this Congress does right by Native Americans,” said Herseth Sandlin, noting that the new Law and Order Act was passed in the face of increased crime and increased violence on the reservations in South Dakota and across Indian country.

“That created an unsafe place for children,” she said. “Every child on this reservation deserves to live in a safe house and to get a quality education.” Herseth Sandlin expressed some frustration with the backroom legislative process on Capitol Hill.

“I should not have to make deals in a closed process to have fair treatment” for American Indians, she said.

Telling the crowd that this election, too, will be close, she urged those in attendance to “go to the old hospital and vote.” Early voting is open at the Election Commission office on the second floor of the former Indian Health Services hospital, she said.

“We are going to win,” she added. “We need every vote in the bank before Nov. 2. This is an historic opportunity to vote. You can go vote this week. Use early voting. We cannot give them (Republicans) any fuel to cancel early voting.”

She said she needed the help of eligible voters on the reservation “to prove your detractors wrong.”

Herseth Sandlin, who knew the crowd was hers, said: “I have a record, but I don’t hear a peep from my opponent. I know this, we don’t give up on kids at 16. We know what happens when we give up on kids at an early age.”

Also urging those at the rally to “not be tricked by the stuff coming out of Washington, DC – the Republican talking points,” she soon was off for similar sessions in Lower Brule and Crow Creek reservations on Thursday, but not before receiving two star quilts – one of them a replica of the OST flag, the other a purple-and-white creation.

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