Year of Unity
Dakota Digest - 02/19/2010
By Jackelyn Severin
Governor Mike Rounds announces, today, his proclamation for a Year of Unity. The announcement commemorates the late Governor George Mickelson’s Year of Reconciliation. It’s been 20 years since Mickelson's effort to bring all races in South Dakota together.
Twenty years ago then Governor George Mickelson hoped his proclamation of reconciliation would begin a dialogue among South Dakotans; a dialogue leading to a period of healing between Native Americans and whites.
Gretchen Lord Anderson was Mickelson’s press secretary during his first years as governor. She recalls a conversation she had with Mickelson on a plane ride from Rapid City to Pierre in the fall of 1989 where Mickelson expressed a deep desire to change race relations in South Dakota. Anderson says less than two weeks after that conversation Tim Giago, then editor of the Lakota Times, wrote an open letter challenging Mickelson to do exactly that.
Anderson says, “Governors hate open letters like that ‘cause its just, its impossible to respond.”
Anderson who is now a Presbyterian Minister believes this letter was an act of fate.
“And I took the clippings in and laid them in front of the Governor and I said you if you’re serious about doing something about this here’s an invitation from at least part of the Native American community,” says Anderson.
Tim Giago is now the editor of Native Sun News.
Giago says, “My editorial was read on the Senate floor, on the legislative floor, by a guy named Lynn Hart who is half African-American and half Nakota.”
Giago says his idea came from a Minnesota journalist, Harold Iron Cloud, who was trying to get a Year of Reconciliation in his state. Giago’s editorial challenged Mickelson to do two things – make Native American day a state holiday and recognize the atrocities of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Mickelson spoke from the foot of the Crazy Horse Mountain in October of 1990 on the state’s first Native American Day.
“But the significance of today, at least in my heart, is that this gives an opportunity to pause for a moment to honor all the great leaders of the Sioux Nation,” says Mickeslon, “Sitting Bull, Ben Rifle, and other great Sioux Chiefs and leaders whose really last ray of hope to return to their former way life was taken away from them at another place in South Dakota a hundred years ago this year, a place called Wounded Knee."
Anderson says, “And that had never been said. It had never been admitted by any kind of state elected leader that what happened at Wounded Knee was actually a massacre.”
For Anderson, Mickelson’s Year of Reconciliation is his greatest legacy. Unfortunately, though, after Mickelson’s tragic death in 1993 efforts set forth from the Year of Reconciliation fizzled out. Giago says despite this progress has been made in the last twenty years but more needs to be done and that is why he and a group of other Native Americans in the Black Hills area piled in a car and headed to Pierre to talk with Governor Mike Rounds to rekindle the efforts Mickelson started.
But for some, like President of Oglala Lakota College, Tom Shortbull, this Year of Unity is a hollow gesture.
“You know they’ll go to our pow-wows and pat us on the back for being, uh having pow-wows and things like that but anything concrete out of the state of South Dakota sure has been lacking,” says Shortbull.
Shortbull is not the only one disappointed. State Representative Ed Iron Cloud says the state does not do much to facilitate relations with tribal governments. He recently brought a measure to the legislature creating a task force to study and improve the Office of Government Tribal Relations. The measure was defeated in committee.
“I just feel that we need to quit talking about it and do it. You know if you look back on our policies and previous bills and legislation all our ideas that we have to deal with reconciliation and working together have all been killed,” says Iron Cloud.
Others remain hopeful. Newspaper Editor Tim Giago believes this is an opportunity for change. And he says this year officials will take action.
“We’re gonna reach out to every tribe in the state, we’re gonna reach out to every chamber of commerce. We’re gonna reach out to all the high schools and colleges,” says Giago, “We’re just gonna reach out to those communities in South Dakota and hope they will become participants in this.”
Giago says the Year of Unity is really about individuals and communities making the effort to break down barriers between races. He says this is what Mickelson truly wanted twenty years ago.
Mickelson says, “Reconciliation must be an encouragement of all South Dakotan’s to educate each other to improve communication and to share with each other so the end result is a mutual understanding and respect.”
Governor Mike Rounds has invited leaders of the state’s nine Native American tribes as well as community and state officials for his Year of Unity announcement. Rounds says his hope is South Dakotans will celebrate and understand the contributions of all races and cultures in South Dakota.
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