Tamara St. John, second from left, won election to the South Dakota House of Representatives on November 6, 2018. The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate citizen is seen here with family and supporters outside of a polling place on Election Day. Photo: Tamara for SD

Native Sun News Today: Indian candidates win in South Dakota

A great run for Indian candidates
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Contributing Editor

SISSETON – The first Republican in four decades to win a state legislative seat in South Dakota’s unusually Democratic Dist. 1 is a Native American and a woman, standing for two historically under-represented constituencies.

New Rep. Tamara St. John, a 52-year-old Dakota “mother first and foremost” of Sisseton, exemplifies a shift toward more diversity in the makeup of the state Legislature, which she attributes to campaigners dedicated to turning out the native vote in the November 6 general election.

“It says something about the power of the tribal vote,” she told the Native Sun News Today. “I didn’t know if our tribal people would come out to vote.

“It is the result of a lot of really, really hard work by champions within our community, registering voters and connecting and finding people to drive them to the poles. They were not necessarily working with any candidate or endorsing me. That is a force here,” she said.

Dist. 1 encompasses voters in the far northeastern counties of Brown, Day, Marshall and Roberts, where St. John serves as the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribal archivist at Lake Traverse Reservation and works on the South Dakota Humanities Council board.

St. John emphasized that she takes a positive approach, seeking common ground among constituencies to unify for future improvement. “It feels like I’m filling a gap, not just for the tribal community but also for community as a whole,” she said. “I am a strong advocate for that.”

The only other Native American to win a seat in the state House of Representatives on the Republican Party ticket was incumbent Dist. 27 Lakota rancher Steve Livermont, 62, of Martin, who served his first term in the Legislature beginning in 2016.

However, the Grand Old Party has “a pretty diverse group, in terms of culture and gender,” South Dakota Republican Party Director Dan Lederman told the Native Sun News Today. “It’s kind of a big deal for us to have brought the first female to be governor of the state,” he added, in reference to Governor-elect Kristi Noem.

Livermont narrowly won, with a seven-vote lead over Democrat Margaret Ross. Awaiting a recount that reaffirmed the tally, Ross thanked volunteer campaigners and commented on the Dist. 27 House race, in which all candidates were Native American.

“Thank all of you for your votes and willingness to participate. We only win when we all show up,” she said on social media. “Lila wopila tanka hecha.”

Livermont’s fellow incumbent Dist. 27 GOP House candidate Elizabeth May, of Kyle, narrowly lost to new Democratic Party challenger U.S. Navy Veteran and Oglala Sioux tribal background investigator Peri Pourier, of Pine Ridge -- with 24 percent and 26 percent of the vote respectively.

In the Dist. 27 Senate race, Lakota Democratic candidate Red Dawn Foster, of Pine Ridge, garnered 59 percent of the vote to win over Republican Bill Hines, with 41 percent. Foster has a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Colorado.

Dist. 27 encompasses voters of Bennett, Haakon, Jackson, Pennington, and Oglala Lakota counties. In adjacent Dist. 26A, incumbent Democrat Lakota Shawn Bordeaux, of Mission, ran unopposed to represent Melette and Todd County voters. Bordeaux is the Tribal Lands Institute director at Sinte Gleska University there.

In the Dist. 26 Senate race, incumbent Assistant Democratic Minority Leader Troy Heinert, a rancher and Indian rodeo cowboy based in Mission, triumphed with a 53-percent lead over Republican Joel Koskan to represent Brule, Buffalo, Jones, Lyman, Mellette, and Todd County voters.


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Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com

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