By U.S. Senator John Thune
South Dakotans celebrate Native American Day every second Monday in October as a way to recognize and pay tribute to the unique and traditional cultures of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations. It is an honor to live in a state that is home to some of the greatest warriors of all time: Chief Sitting Bull and Chief Crazy Horse, just to name a few. People from around the world are familiar with these great warriors and travel thousands of miles to visit their homelands. This is why I’m glad my bill, the NATIVE Act, was recently signed into law. This common-sense bill creates an opportunity for tribes to drive their own tourism efforts and share their culture, traditions, and history.
While South Dakota is home to many of the great Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota chiefs and other Native American leaders, it’s also home to the one of the greatest leaders on the track: Olympian Billy Mills. Mills, who is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and life was not easy for him. Growing up, Mills faced adversities and was orphaned by age 12. Motivated by the wisdom and teachings of his Lakota people, he became one of the greatest long distance runners of all time.
During the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, Mills made his name and his heritage known to the world when he became the first South Dakotan to win an Olympic gold medal. To date, he’s the only American to ever win gold in the 10,000 meter run. I’m amazed every time I see the clip of Mills sprinting into that final stretch, speeding past one runner after another to capture the medal. It’s one of those iconic athletic moments you never forget.
Like Mills, Chief Sitting Bull, and Chief Crazy Horse, countless Native Americans have been making contributions to South Dakota’s history and identity for centuries. Whether it’s the food we eat or the names of cities and towns we drive through, the Native American footprint continues to leave a positive and long-lasting impression throughout the state.
So, as South Dakotans prepare to celebrate this year, I want to recognize all of our tribal citizens who have made and will continue to make a difference in communities across the state. To the staff at tribal schools who encourage students to rise above and fight adversity, to the tribal leaders who advocate on behalf of their people, and to the first responders and medical professionals who work tirelessly to provide safety to their communities, thank you. You are all warriors to the people you serve and for the way of life that you protect. I’m humbled and blessed to live in a state where we benefit from the culture, traditions, achievements, and contributions of Native American people every day of the year.