Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

The U.S. Senate recently passed legislation that will add approximately 200 acres to the Black Hills National Cemetery, reports the Rapid City Journal. The land is currently held by the Bureau of Land Management.

Established in 1948, the cemetery occupies 107 acres of land. The 200 ares to be transferred is located northwest of the cemetery and is largely barren. Approximately 28,600 veterans from South Dakota and surrounding states have been buried in the cemetery.

Companion legislation was introduced and passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Kristi Noem last year. The legislation must be signed by President Trump before it is enacted into law.

To learn more about veterans affairs in the Black Hills region, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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On January 3, 1961, Ben Reifel became the first Lakota man to serve in the United States House of Representatives. As a congressman, Reifel was a strong advocate for education, veterans affairs, and the humanities. Reifel was the first American Indian to serve South Dakota in Congress.

Although Reifel did not complete the 8th grade until he was sixteen years old, he was able to attain degrees in both chemistry and dairy science from South Dakota State University. During his undergraduate career, Reifel had joined the Army Reserves and later served in World War II. Reifel went on to earn both his master’s and doctoral degree from Harvard University after the war. He was one of the first American Indians to earn a doctoral degree.

After working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Pine Ridge Reservation, Reifel ran for U.S. Congress as a Republican. Reifel won his first campaign and went on to serve five terms. As a congressman, Reifel advocated for education in tribal communities, and advocated for combining county and tribal schools so that both Native and non-Native students could learn together.

Reifel returned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work following his last term in Congress. Reifel died at the age of 83 in Sioux Falls, following a battle with cancer. Shortly after his death and to honor Reifel’s legacy, Congress renamed the Cedar Pass Visitor Center to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Additionally, Governor Dennis Daugaard declared September 19 as Ben Reifel Day in South Dakota in 2017.

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On November 20, 2013 American Indian code talkers from 33 tribal nations were honored by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. During the ceremony, 67 South Dakotan Native American code talkers were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for the their efforts in World War II. The code talkers hailed from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Yankton Sioux Tribe.

In 2008, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Code Talker Recognition Act. This act authorized the creation of the gold medals to honor the Native American code talkers. Each tribe designed their own medals, which were produced by the U.S. Mint. The Congressional Gold Medal of Honor is the highest award that Congress can give.

Several Senators and Representatives spoke during the November 2013 ceremony, including then Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota. A member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Senator Johnson delivered remarks honoring the code talkers he was able to meet during his time as an elected official. During his remarks,  Senator Johnson noted the valiant efforts of the Native American code talkers during the war, although many were not yet citizens of the United States. While some American Indians were granted citizenship through landownership, marriage to a non-Native, and by other treaties and special agreements, all Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924, with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act.

You can view the honoring ceremony for the Native American code talkers on C-SPAN. View all of the Congressional Gold Medals issued to Native American code talkers on the U.S. Mint’s website.

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South Dakota could see big changes to health care costs if the American Health Care Act passes, reports the Rapid City Journal.  The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the American Health Care Act of 2017 and now it has moved to the Senate.  This legislation would replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

In order to become law, the American Health Care Act must be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Trump. In its current form, the legislation would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to individuals with pre-existing conditions by removing them from the community rating requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The bill sets aside $8 billion for states to create "high risk pools" to assist individuals with pre-existing conditions with premium payments. States would be required to set up the high risk pools before applying for a pre-existing conditions waiver. 

Governor Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem did not comment on the legislation citing the possibility of future amendments to the law.  South Dakota Attorney General and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Marty Jackley is concerned about the bill as it is written, and expressed support for provisions that would provide coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions. 

Learn more about the American Health Care Act by reading the full report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. 

For more information about the Affordable Care Act, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network's online news archive or issue hub.  For more information about health insurance offered through the Affordable Care Act, you can visit

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The Rapid City Journal reports Governor Dennis Daugaard is seeking nominations for the District 34 House of Representatives seat.  District 34 covers western Rapid City.  The nominations are being accepted after the passing of Representative Dan Dryden, 72, of Rapid City passed last month.  

For more information about 2016 elections, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network digital news archives.  You can get more information about the 2016 legislature on the Black Hills Knowledge Network resource page

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The South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority has been steadily working over the years since the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) hearings in 2005 to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base off of any future closure lists. The Rapid City Journal reports that the group has been doing this by helping to keep base facilities updated and trying to buy plots of land near the accident potential zone to keep civilian homes out of potential danger. These steps were identified as potential problems that the base faced during the last round of BRAC hearings in 2005.

To read up on past news articles related to Ellsworth AFB, click on this archives link.

For more information on the air base itself, check out this Black Hills Knowledge Network resource page.

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Wednesday, 07 September 2016 00:00

Black Hills National Cemetery Expansion in Sight

Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem to transfer 200 acres of land to the Black Hills National Cemetery was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. KOTA TV News reports that the Black Hills National Cemetery Expansion Act (H.R. 3839) would allow for a permanent transfer of land from the Bureau of Land Management to the cemetery. 

The Black Hills National Cemetery has been open since 1948. Currently operating with 100 acres, the cemetery will need additional land to continue to serve veterans and their families. Noem's bill will now go before the U.S. Senate for approval. 

Find additional news about veterans and military affairs on the Black Hills Knowledge Network's online news archives.

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Thursday, 26 May 2016 00:00

Sen. Thune Bill Proposes IHS Reform

As three Indian Health Service facilities in South Dakota have faced recent sanctions from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. Sen. John Thune has proposed a bill that seeks to reform the IHS, reports South Dakota Public Radio

The Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act would make it easier to fire IHS administrators who make mistakes, boost whistleblower protections and direct money to patient care, Thune said. He noted that IHS funding has increased 35 percent since 2008 as the reason his bill doesn't also seek to boost the IHS budget. He argues that the bill's of combination of employee incentives and agency accountability would go further than more money to solve problems at IHS hospitals

State Sen. Troy Heinert represents multiple Indian reservations and said IHS facilities do need more funding in addition to other reforms, saying chronic underfunding has left the agency unable to offer competitive pay and unable to operate its hospitals. 

Read more about healthcare providers on the Black Hills Knowledge Network


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A new mental health facility targeted at preventing suicide among Native Americans belongs on a reservation, not in Rapid City, according to two of South Dakota's representatives in Congress, reports the Associated Press

Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune questioned the federal Indian Health Service's plans to build a $2 million facility in Rapid City, saying the high poverty level on West River reservations would make travel to Rapid City a hardship, if not impossible for some. 

"We worry that, by placing the facility so far from the reservations, IHS may not fully grasp the urgent nature of this crisis," reads the letter

Thune and Noem have asked for answers to a series of questions by Dec. 1. 

Read more about mental health on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015 00:00

Sen. Thune Plans Prescribed Burn Bill

Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune plans to introduce legislation that would have Congress set the parameters under which federal agencies could conduct future prescribed burns, the Rapid City Journal reports

Thune's action follows an April 13, 2015, prescribed burn at Wind Cave National Park that turned into the 6,500-acre Cold Brook wildfire. It took firefighters a week to contain the fire, and Thune said he believes some of it burned on private property and that smoke damaged the lungs of livestock. 

Thune's bill is likely to require that state and local governments be consulted before prescribed burns take place. He also has asked the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior the change policies for prescribed burns. 

Read more about the U.S. Congress on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.


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South Dakota's congressional delegation continues to press the Secretary for Veterans Affairs to back off of plans to close the Veterans Affairs healthcare facility in Hot Springs, the Associated Press reports

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said that a final decision has not been made about the historic facility's future, despite its closure being included in the president's budget proposal. The three-member delegation met with McDonald on Feb. 25, 2015, after sending him a letter

A draft environmental impact statement of the potential closure is planned to be released in June 2015, according to a press release from Sen. John Thune. After that, public comments will be taken by VA officials. 

A press release from Sen. Mike Rounds recounts an exchange between McDonald and Rounds during a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, at which McDonald said VA officials are still collecting data about its Hot Springs facility and have made no decisions. 


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South Dakota, Senator Mike Rounds (R) supports Congressional Senate Bill 233, Working Families Flexibility Act of 2015. There are 25 co-sponsors of the Senate legislation and 81 co-sponsors of an identical House of Representatives Bill H.R.465. South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem also co-sponsor the bill, but Rounds is the only one who issued a news release promoting the bill so far this session of Congress. 

As reported in the Rapid City Journal, this bill would give private sector hourly wage earners the option to trade money for overtime pay, in exchange for flexible compensatory or "comp" time. It is being promoted as a working-family friendly amendment, but opposition says it is more about saving companies money. The wording of the bill allows employees to use comp time only when it “does not unduly disrupt the operations of the employer,” setting up a lose of a potential gain.  The National Women’s Law Center claims the bill “would take hard-earned overtime pay out of workers’ pockets in exchange for the elusive promise of compensatory time off.” Senator Rounds responded to critics stating,"Comp time is allowed for government employees... so therefore it should be allowed for private-sector employees."  With SB 233 a heavy debatable topic, Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics at Penn State Abington and researcher of overtime-related issues, provides insight into the bill's purpose and outcomes.

To stay informed track the progress of SB 233. Keep updated on South Dakota Legislative Session on our BHKN page and our diigo archives.  

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Newly elected senator Mike Rounds on Wednesday obtained a pledge from the probable nominee for Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, to maintain the B-1 bomber fleet. According to the Rapid City Journal article, it would mean more support for the continued maintenance, parts replacements, and upgrades of the fleet in the future.

To check out recent news of Ellsworth Air Force Base, check out this archives page.

For more information on EAFB itself, click on this homepage link.

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By Brandon Ecoffey

Native Sun News Managing Editor

KYLE—As November approaches the South Dakota senatorial race is tightening and one particularly important issue to Native American voters was addressed last week at political forum hosted by Oglala Lakota College.

On Wednesday of last week three of the four candidates running for the South Dakota senate seat being left by the retirement of longtime lawmaker Sen. Tim Johnson met in Kyle to answer questions about their stance on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. In attendance at the event were Democratic candidate Rick Weiland and Independent candidates Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie.

"I was the first candidate to come out forcefully early on against the keystone pipeline. They have been trying to promote this as a jobs program for the country. Something that would bring energy security to the country... as something make the country more secure for all this oil that is frankly going to Fort McArthur, Texas and overseas," said Weiland. "This is a big foreign oil con job on the American

people.We need to focus on what we can do as a country to invest in renewable energy."

Pressler, who served three terms in the Senate, has also come out and opposed the construction of the pipeline.

"It doesn't move any North Dakota oil and it only moves Canadian oil," said Pressler.

He said claims that the pipeline would move North Dakota oil are "a pure lie." Instead of creating the Keystone XL pipeline Pressler says that there are a number of pipelines in existence that could be enhanced to move oil from North Dakota and that railroad companies must be accommodating to the needs of South Dakota by hauling significantly more of the grain produced by South farmers.

The race that was initially viewed as a likely loss for Democrats who are in a battle to keep the majority in the senate has now turned in to a race to watch as both Pressler and Weiland are benefiting from the tailspin that Republican nominee Mike Round is experiencing.

Rounds continues to face harsh criticism in the media for his role in the development of a corruption filled EB-5 program that was initiated under the watch of Round's during his time as governor of South Dakota. EB-5 was designed to encourage foreign investors to bring money to South Dakota in exchange for certain amenities that would streamline citizenship for the investors. However, missing funds and a lack of transparency from Republican officials in the state has led to outcry from the public and a significant hit to Rounds' polling numbers. All of the candidates pounced on his "lack of courage" for not facing them in a debate.

On Monday of last week both the Rapid City Journal and the Sioux Falls Argus leader published stories analyzing the race and concluded that if Weiland dropped out of the race right now, Mike Rounds and Larry Pressler, would be in a virtual deadlock going in to the final stretch of the race.

There has been no indication that Weiland is considering withdrawing and he continues to assert that if elected he will seek out a seat on the Senate Indian Affairs committee a move that was then followed by Pressler claiming to do the same. The largest weekly newspaper in South Dakota, Native Sun News, has endorsed former Senator Pressler and has urged Weiland to drop out of the race. In television

commercials Rounds has given his full support to the construction of the XL Pipeline and called for the end of Obamacare.

Gordon Howie also came out in support of the pipeline and Republican candidate Rounds skipped his second Native American hosted debate.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at [email protected])

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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By Brandon Ecoffey

Native Sun News Managing Editor

WASHINGTON — If there is an arm of the federal government that postures itself as the bully on the block: it is the IRS. However, when the IRS came to Indian Country and attempted to trample on the rights of tribes, they ended up taking a whooping from tribes and their friends in Congress.

On Wednesday of last week the United States House of Representatives passed a much celebrated bill that was years in the making that will allow for tribes to escape the illegal harassment of tribal governments by the Internal Revenue Service. H.R.3043 better known as the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act passed the House by a vote of 277-141 and is being praised by tribal leaders and law makers alike.

“This bill means that the IRS has to respect the sovereignty of our tribal nations and the treaties that our past leaders secured for this generation and others to come,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer. “If we are trying to take care of our people the IRS will no longer be able to interfere with our programs or services. It is a measure of respect of our treaties. If there is any ambiguity in the statute the IRS will be forced to side with tribes. It is a great step forward for sovereignty and the Oglala and the plains tribes have led it.”

The bill had been in the works for years and came about in response to attempts by the Internal Revenue Service to individually tax tribes and tribal members for benefits they received from tribal government programs. When one tribal-leader from Standing Rock attempted to inform the IRS that tribal nations had certain rights and exemptions guaranteed by treaty law, he was told by an IRS field agent that “ you can read your treaty in jail.”

IRS field agents had first stumbled in to Indian Country looking to tax individual per cap gaming revenue. Shortly after gaining a foothold in Indian Country, the much maligned bureaucracy, first attempted to tax tribally administered healthcare services and the insurance policies of tribal members, but was forced to stop after lawmakers created an exemption for healthcare. At the time lobbyists for tribes wanted to include an exemption that would have also freed tribal programs that addressed culturally specific needs as determined by individual tribes, but the political climate at the time was unfavorable to the inclusion despite the efforts of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and testimony from former Oglala Sioux president John Steele.

At the time the IRS had continued to look in to the internal workings of tribal programs and begun to put in to motion attempts to tax services that tribal governments were providing to tribal members. In one instance the distribution of backpacks and school supplies to families were targeted for taxation and trips made by elderly tribal members to workshops and cultural events were also viewed as taxable items by field agents of the IRS.

"Field agent decision-making has been at best inconsistent and arbitrary," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Chickasaw Nation, said in a statement that was inserted into yesterday's issue of the Congressional Record. "Activities allowed in one audit have been challenged in another. Field agents have conversely given wide deference to federal and state government programs that provide for the general welfare of their citizens."

While tribal leaders attempted to create a permanent fix to the problem through legislation the IRS created a set of guidelines that would guide their agents in how to deal with Indian Country. A move supported by the National Congress of American Indians. Tribes on the northern plains however refused to settle for a potentially temporary change in the institution’s policy and demanded that Congress create a law that would solidify these protections and tax exemptions for services provided by sovereign tribal governments to their citizens.

“It was nice that they set up the guidelines but whenever you create a list of what another sovereign government can do it is inherently limiting,” said Mark Van Norman, a member of the Cheyenne river Sioux tribe and to former Attorney General Janet Reno “As a general rule one nation does not place limits or taxes on the revenue of another. We wanted something that would provide protections across the board and direct IRS agents to respect tribal sovereignty,” he added.

In addition to the strong legal standing that tribes stood on due to treaties, advocates for the bill say that there are guarantees that tribal members possess due to their status as duel citizens of the United States and their individual indigenous nation. According to lobbyists dual-citizenship protects tribal members from having their rights as citizens of their indigenous nation infringed upon as a result of also being an American citizen. The attempted taxation of individual tribal members by the federal government did just that according to the lobbyist.

In statements made on official congressional record Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KA) said “Under what is known as the general welfare doctrine, the IRS excludes a broad array of government services for purposes such as education, public safety, health, housing and culture from taxation. However, this is not always the case for tribal nations… Recently the IRS has challenged tribal general welfare programs despite many of these being nearly identical to tax exempt programs provided by federal, state and local governments.” She said, “This bicameral and bipartisan legislation will positively affect many Native Americans and is an important step in bringing IRS treatment of the tribes in line with how they currently treat States.”

In August the bill was introduced with strong bipartisan support by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and 14 other cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. Eventually 40 lawmakers signed on as cosponsors of the House bill and Sen. Heidi Heitikamp (D-ND) introduced an accompanying bill in to the Senate.

The bill amends the Internal revenue code so that agents of the IRS are directed by the law to “exclude from gross income, for income tax purposed, the value of an Indian general welfare benefit,” according to Sissteon Wahpeton President Robert Shepherd in a piece he wrote for The Hill magazine.

According to current law an “Indian General Welfare Benefit” is any payment or service that is allocated to a tribal member of tribal government that “is administered under specified guidelines and does not discriminate in favor of the governing body of the Indian Tribe…the program benefits are available to any tribal member, are for the promotion of general welfare, are not lavish of extravagant, and are not compensation for services.”

The bill also establishes a Tribal Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary on the taxation of Indians, requires training and education for IRS field agents on federal Indian law and the implementation of this Act, suspends audits and examinations of Indian tribal governments and members of Indian tribes and waives any interest or tax penalties related to the exclusion from gross income of Indian general welfare benefits.

Although some feel that the bill could potentially give tribal councils full authority to run ransack through limited tribal funds advocates of the bill say that the Native American advisory committee will provide proper advice to the IRS on how to prevent that.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at [email protected])

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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South Dakota's congressional delegation has invited new U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to South Dakota in an effort to stop the closure of the historic Hot Springs VA facility, the Associated Press reports.

Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem both want Secretary McDonald to visit the Hot Springs VA hospital that has served veterans for more than a century, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been named one of America's most endangered historic places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The VA has announced plans to move most services to Rapid City, open an outpatient clinic in Hot Springs and close the hospital. Local advocates and South Dakota's congressional delegation have worked to prevent a closure.

Read more about the Hot Springs VA on the Black Hills Knowledge Network and at the VA Black Hills Healthcare System website.

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