Courtesy Yankton Sioux Tribe
Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe)

Robert Wayne Flying Hawk: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh
6/28/14

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe).

Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?

Mato ki Nanji, Standing Bear.

Where is your nation located?

The Ihanktonwan (Yankton) once roamed over 11 million acres in what is now southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Currently we are located in southeastern South Dakota along the Missouri River. 

Our boundaries established by the 1858 treaty defined 487,000 acres. As of today, we have a checkerboard of about 55,000 acres within our boundaries.

Where were your people originally from?

The peoples of the Great Sioux Nation—which included the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota—were from the forested area now known as Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Ihanktonwan Nation is one of the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation. The Ihanktonwan are a Nakota band.

What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?

The name Ihanktonwan translates to “Land of the Friendly People.” We tried to keep peace during the Minnesota uprising of 1862, and we met with Lewis and Clark and warned them that some of the other tribes were not so friendly.

Struck by the Ree (1804–1888), a Yankton chief, was wrapped in an American flag by Meriwether Lewis. Lewis and Clark were in the area exploring Louisiana Purchase lands. As a leader, Chief Struck by the Ree managed to befriend the whites, yet remain dedicated and loyal to his people. He died at Greenwood in southern Dakota Territory.

How is your government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?

The elected leaders make up the Business and Claims Committee (B&CC) and are chosen every two years. The entire Business and Claims Committee, comprised of four officers and five members, is elected during the same year. The current administration was elected in October 2013, and the next election will be held in 2015.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Yes. The Ihanktonwan Nation is ultimately governed by a General Council, which is the most democratic form of governance. The General Council is comprised of all citizens 18 years of age and older. The Business and Claims Committee conducts the day-to-day business.

How often do the Business and Claims Committee and the General Council meet?

The B&CC meets frequently to deal with day-to-day activities of the tribe, and to resolve issues facing the Ihanktonwan Nation and consider other nation-building issues. The B&CC meets twice a week, more often if needed. General Council meetings are called as needed. I would estimate the General Council meets eight to twelve times a year.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your nation?

My strong belief in my Native culture along with mainstream religion provided me with the foundation for my life.

What responsibilities do you have as a chairman?

My responsibilities as an elected leader are many. Here are just a few: I must be a fair leader to all. I set a good example for all, practice and participate in my Native culture and ceremonies, practice my faith or religion in my everyday life. And I communicate to the people about the activities and actions of the B&CC and why we chose to make those decisions.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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