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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dist. 32 Candidate Elli Schwiesow on Native American Issues

Running as an Independent in the South Dakota Legislative District 32 senate race, Elli Schwiesow has her work cut out for her.

Though she is a life-long Republican who has held a number of official positions in the local and state Republican Parties, she chose to run as an Independent in the general election to avoid a costly primary fight with wealthy Republican candidate Stan Adelstein. She also faces incumbent senator Tom Katus.

In our continuing series of articles on Elli Schwiesow and the issues, today Schwiesow talks about Native American issues. We have previously examined her views on taxes, Second Amendment rights, universal preschool and energy policy.

"I wish someone had all the answers to the problems of the reservation," Schwiesow told me with a smile. "But as a first measure I would suggest or rather endorse the idea that reservations take advantage of the adjacent county seat to obtain justice."

Schwiesow said she has been told that tribal courts are failures in that they cannot be counted on to dispense justice equally.

"The rule of law must apply to everyone equally," said Schwiesow. "Unfortunately on the reservation, that is not the case."

According to Schwiesow, if justice was applied equally, she believes conditions on the reservations would improve.

She acknowledges, however, that alcohol related incidents are complex problems and are not easily addressed by government intervention.

"Individuals must be given incentives to tackle and defeat their own problems," she said.

The conflicting jurisdictions make it very difficult for the government to assist in making progress on the reservations.

"I lived on Pine Ridge Reservation for a while when I was there working for John Thune during his 2004 campaign," she said. "To live there is to learn a lot. Shannon and Todd Counties don't have county seats. Shannon goes to Fall River jurisdiction.

"When there's a problem or a meal program or elderly program is needed, usually you go to your county, but they don't have that option nearby in Shannon and Todd Counties. They have to go to Washington D.C. and the federal government. The more local the action is, the better. How can Native people address problems effectively when the Bureau of Indian Affairs is headquartered in Washington, and tribal government has a lot of corruption problems? These problems actually extend through many levels of government."

Schwiesow believes an old-fashioned tool may go a long way in helping find solutions.

"We can try to improve relationships," she said. "John Thune is working to improve law enforcement on the reservations, to bring down that high crime. The average citizen can do a lot by building relationships. There are many groups who come from out of state to help Natives. I was there when a group from Europe even came to help. But what are we in the surrounding communities doing? Are we doing enough?"

That is a question on the minds of many South Dakotans, both on and off the reservation. The past year has seen several news reports of alarmingly high suicide rates on some reservations.

Schwiesow said, "Suicide on reservations is high, there is a sense of hopelessness. It's a Catch 22. Folks want to hold dearly onto their heritage and culture. That's a wonderful thing, but if that includes not working and looking to others to subsidize your lifestyle, that is to the detriment of family and society. Every culture has wonderful things that are passed on. But many of the kids I've encountered wanted nothing to do with the tribe. Many of them couldn't wait to get rid of the 'Rez Pride' hats and things."

While admitting the problems faced by people on the reservations are complex and there are no easy solutions, the concern in Schwiesow's voice made it clear she is committed to working hard to help those suffering from injustice and despair.

Next time, Schwiesow discusses abortion.


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