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Native American Heritage Month: A time to clear up the misconceptions of life on the reservation

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 8:00 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - November is Native American heritage month.

Recently we’ve featured stories of the rich ties to Good Earth State Park, the concerns of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, and a new Tribal Liaison position established to work within the Attorney General’s office.

In reaching out to two Native American educators, they agreed to share their thoughts on serious matters, while also mixing in a bit of humor.

There’s a lot to understand about the history and culture of the Indigenous people in the midwest.

“You can’t understand it all in a month, you know,” said Redwing Thomas, educator at Isanti Community School in Nebraska. “It’s good and it is bringing awareness to our people you know and it’s helping shut down some of maybe those misconceptions and misunderstandings that we all have with each other.”

The Nebraska school is part of the Santee Sioux Nation, but the tribe has a direct connection with Flandreau. A group from the Nebraska tribe wanted to return to Minnesota, but ended their journey in South Dakota, and became a part of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

Thomas answers the question: Do Native Americans pay taxes? While some things are exempt on the reservation, taxes are still paid.

“I pay taxes at Walmart I pay taxes to the state I pay taxes to the IRS, all that stuff right and all of us do,” said Thomas.

And there are no monthly checks for being Native American.

“We don’t receive any kind of monies from the government. The monies that do come to our tribe, our grant monies for programming for things like that. And some tribes out there do give themselves a per capita payment. And that’s because of the revenues that their tribe that their tribal businesses are generating for their own people,” said Thomas.

He then throws in a bit of humor.

“But if you want cheap cigarettes come to the Rez,” said Thomas.

Anthropologist Richie Meyers lives and teaches in Pine Ridge. He’s setting the record straight on the rumor that Native Americans get a free education.

“The $300,000 in debt that I was in, I’m chipping away at for having a PhD behind my name. Gee, someone forgot to notify me of the free,” joked Meyers.

In their communities, Missing and Murdered Indigenous People hits close to home. Meyers recalls a conversation with his Uncle while on a drive.

“Driving near Sioux Falls once in a little town there. He talked about one of these ladies he knew who they lost her there and she disappeared. So he said someone in this town must know,” said Meyers.

If you want to understand more about the history and traditions a good introduction is to watch a movie.

“American Heritage Month on Netflix, Hulu, and Prime have categories,” said Meyers.

You could also attend a Pow Wow.

“It’s good, why not? It’s culture sharing,” said Meyers.

Richie Meyers and his wife Rachel are joined by 5 year old  Asasyela, 11 year old Wakinyela,...
Richie Meyers and his wife Rachel are joined by 5 year old Asasyela, 11 year old Wakinyela, and their dogs Ziyan and Sapa(Richie Meyers)

As both men look to the future, they are investing in educating the next generation.

“Our language is who we are,” said Thomas. “It holds the keys to our identity to our philosophies, to our worldviews to our history. It is our soul.”

Meyers talks about the land and previous treaties. He believes a positive step would be that the proceeds from National Park entrance fees be shared with the tribes. He also believes that the words welfare, subsidies, and even tax deductions are all the same thing, but just labeled a different thing.

Meyers claims that farmers receive the highest level of government financial support in South Dakota and that comments of ‘all the Indians on welfare’ to be invalid.

Despite the high unemployment rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation, as much as 90 percent according to Meyers, there is a sense of renewal. Thomas agrees.

“And in Indian country right now, there’s a flame that is burning and it’s about re-strengthening and revitalizing. Our languages, our culture’s our practices, our traditions, you know, and it’s the young ones leaving and that’s really sort of beautiful,” said Thomas.

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