- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - In his last meeting with a legislative committee Friday, the state’s first tribal relations secretary said that while the rapport between tribes and the state has improved during his tenure, his successor still faces a number of challenges.

J.R. LaPlante has taken a job as an assistant U.S. attorney in Sioux Falls, three years after Gov. Dennis Daugaard established the Department of Tribal Relations and appointed LaPlante to lead it. LaPlante will move to his new position in August.

He told the State-Tribal Relations Committee that new policies and agreements from the past three years demonstrate the gains made between tribes and the state.

This past session, legislators established a task force to explore tribal economic development.

LaPlante said he’s been telling tribal leaders about the new task force and “the reactions range from excitement to outright surprise.”

A recent agreement between the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and the state Highway Patrol to ensure safety at a powwow demonstrates that the two groups can collaborate without getting mixed up in issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction, he said.

“South Dakota and the tribes can redefine their relationship through cooperative agreements,” he said.

LaPlante said he’s laid a foundation for future secretaries, but there are still major problems to address. Affordable housing on reservations is an ongoing issue, and LaPlante and committee members agreed that problems with restraining orders are also worth a close look. Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said he’s heard of reservation residents getting a restraining order but finding it doesn’t apply in other parts of the state.

LaPlante said that he thinks state officials will find a good replacement but said that the work is not easy. He said his department is a “generalist agency” because it deals with a wide range of issues, from education and social services to public safety. He’s worked with every other state agency, legislators and with leadership in all nine tribes in the state.

Daugaard’s office says it is still accepting resumes from candidates interested in the position.

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