Tribal chairman calls for collaboration; Noem spokesman responds with criticism

By: and - January 12, 2023 6:28 pm
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Peter Lengkeek delivers the annual State of the Tribes address to lawmakers on Jan. 12, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Peter Lengkeek delivers the annual State of the Tribes address to lawmakers on Jan. 12, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

UPDATED 7:30 p.m. Central, 1/12/23

PIERRE — A tribal chairman said Thursday that better collaboration is needed among tribal and state officials on deadly storms, and Gov. Kristi Noem’s spokesman responded by describing that assertion and others as a “message of division” that perpetuated “false narratives.”

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Peter Lengkeek delivered the annual State of the Tribes address to lawmakers at the Capitol in Pierre. He talked about the response to recent winter storms, which has been a point of contention between some tribal leaders and the Noem administration.

“A single life lost is one too many,” Lengkeek said. “If we are able to collaborate and work in partnership successfully in the future, we must address and correct the dynamics of our relationship, so that the lives of all South Dakotans are protected.”


Lengkeek said nine deaths occurred when two winter storms hit the Rosebud Reservation last month. The fatalities included a 12-year-old boy with health problems who couldn’t be reached in time by emergency responders, an elderly man found bundled up in his home who’d frozen to death, and a man who froze to death in a ditch, according to Rosebud officials.

Lengkeek referenced the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s disaster declaration during the storm, as well as declarations by the Crow Creek and Oglala Sioux tribes. He said the declarations were meant to raise awareness.

But emergency services were slow to act,” Lengkeek said.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe issued its disaster declaration Dec. 16. The Noem administration has said it was responsive to tribal requests and communicated with Rosebud officials. Noem activated the National Guard on Dec. 22 to help with efforts on the Rosebud Reservation. 

Several hours after Lengkeek’s address Thursday, Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, sent an 800-word email to media outlets criticizing the speech. Fury reiterated the Noem administration’s position on the storms and said Lengkeek’s statement that emergency services were slow to react “couldn’t be further from the truth.”


Ian Fury response to 2023 State of the Tribes speech


History and education were additional themes in the speech. Lengkeek said schools should teach the history and culture of the tribes in South Dakota.

“There are a lot of South Dakotans who do not understand the history of the nine tribes within our state’s boundaries,” Lengkeek said. “Oceti Sakowin history is South Dakota history.”

The Legislature too often entertains and gets caught up in controversies like critical race theory, according to Lengkeek.

“We need to address the biases that have existed for generations,” he said.

Lengkeek also criticized the state process used to draft new social studies standards for schools.

“We certainly do not need out-of-state intellects chosen in a politically motivated manner attempting to write the standards regarding how our history is taught,” he said.

Fury, in his email criticizing the speech, said the state’s proposed social studies standards “represent the largest emphasis on Native American history of any proposed standards to date.” Fury said the standards would ensure that a subset of Native American-specific standards, called the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings, will be taught.

The speech also touched on a new effort to honor tribal veterans with a monument. 

During World War I and World War II, hundreds of tribal members from South Dakota served in the U.S. military, using their Native language to send covert messages. They were known as “code talkers.” 

Lengkeek and other tribal leaders are calling on lawmakers to fund a monument to honor code talkers. The tribal leaders hope to secure funding during the current legislative session, which began Tuesday and continues until March. The total budget for the project comes to about $850,000, according to a presentation to the State-Tribal Relations Committee after the speech.

The monument would feature the names of the code talkers on a large slab of granite carved in the shape of South Dakota, with renderings of their medals on the other side, and be located on the Capitol grounds.

Fury said other veterans’ memorials on the grounds have been paid for by fundraising from veterans’ groups. Fury said Lengkeek is blaming the state for private fundraising that has not materialized and is now “asking the state to foot the bill.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from Gov. Kristi Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, that were not available when the story first published.




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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper

Seth is editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight. He was previously a supervising senior producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting and a newspaper journalist in Rapid City and Mitchell.