Courtesy Hawks for U.S. House campaign
Rep. Hawks greets a soldier at the Sisseton Wahpeton Wacipi.

SD Rep. Paula Hawks Stresses Partnerships in Run for Congress

Tanya H. Lee

Paula Hawks is a Democratic representative in the South Dakota state legislature. She is challenging incumbent Rep. Kristi Noem for South Dakota’s at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and why are you running for the U.S. House?

I am a South Dakota girl, born and raised. I was born outside of Flandreau on the family farm. I went to SDSU [South Dakota State University], where I met my husband. We have three kids.

“I’ve been to six of the reservations in South Dakota and we will be finishing up our tour of reservations in July and August.” (Courtesy Hawks for U.S. House campaign)

I taught high school science for 10 years, then I ran for the legislature in South Dakota because I was very frustrated with the way education was being handled at the state level, and… it became apparent to me that South Dakota needed a strong voice in its one U.S. House seat. We need somebody who’s going to represent all of the people of South Dakota and work to make life better for the average South Dakotan.

Could you talk about your relationship with American Indian communities?

I went to school in Flandreau public schools. We also had an Indian school in Flandreau and there were good relationships between the Indian school and the public school. We had a lot of Native American kids in the public school.

Growing up in that community, you couldn’t help but be aware of what was going on with all aspects of reservation life, and particularly for me as I watched economic developments ebb and flow with the Santee Sioux Tribe in Flandreau. You get a very strong feeling of what it is that they’re trying to do to improve their economic standing as well as maintain care for the people who live on the reservation. That’s not just economic development, it’s health care, education, housing and law enforcement. And having been in the state legislature for the last four years I also developed a very strong relationship with Native American representatives like [South Dakota State Sen.] Troy Heinert [Rosebud Sioux Tribe], [South Dakota State Sen.] Shawn Bordeaux [Rosebud Sioux Tribe], [South Dakota State Sen.] Jim Bradford [Oglala Sioux Tribe], folks having a very close relationship with Indians there because they live there. They live on the reservation and they live and breathe it every day. Developing those relationships strengthened my understanding of what’s going on even further.

Have you had any meetings with tribal leaders in regard to your candidacy?

I’ve been to six of the reservations in South Dakota and we will be finishing up our tour of reservations in July and August. I have had an opportunity to meet not just with the chairman of each reservation but also with the tribal leaders on the reservations. I’ve had a chance to talk with them about what their concerns are. Topping their list is not just healthcare but law enforcement and education, housing opportunities, things that are really important not just to folks on the reservations but people everywhere. We all have the same concerns and all have the same desires. We want to live a better life and make sure that we have healthcare and jobs.

What are tribes telling you they would need you to do if you win?

They would need me to be willing to form partnerships with them. At the beginning of that is providing the funding to bring resources into the reservations. We need to prioritize that. It is not just our moral obligation. It is our treaty obligation and it’s something that we need to live up to. That starts with a good partnership between reservations and tribal leaders and their representative.

Money in Indian country is an ongoing problem. What are some of the specific strategies you would use to bring more dollars to Indian communities?

The first thing we need to do is look at what [resources] we have and then prioritize based on what our obligations are. And in this case our obligations are the treaty obligation to provide health care for Native Americans on their own reservation lands.

What are some of the specific priorities for Indian health care in South Dakota?

Number one — when we are in such a crisis situation that we’ve closed down emergency rooms and hospitals – our number one priority is to get those back open. That starts with providing resources, particularly funding. [IHS] is such a severely underfunded agency already that the small increases we’ve seen over the last few years don’t even begin to fill in the [gap].

Would you keep the same basic structure for running those hospitals?

There’s obviously some room for improvement in terms of administrative oversight. There are some things that need to be [changed] in terms of how IHS is run, but that again needs to be a partnership with the reservations.

How about education, what needs to happen and how would you get it done?

Again we’re looking at partnerships and being ready to open up those avenues of communication and allowing some of the things that have worked off of reservations to come on to the reservations and work for them. Again, it is all about building relationships and being willing to have those conversations with the people who are most intimately involved.

What are some of the major problems in education in tribal communities?

They have a really difficult time attracting and retaining educators and staff. When you are looking at a system where they are relying heavily on Teach for America where they bring in a teacher for a couple of years and then that teacher leaves, you have no continuity. And you don’t have the relationships that are so important to a good educational situation. So we have to find ways to attract and retain good quality educators on reservations.

You mentioned law enforcement as another area where work is needed. Could you talk about some specifics there?

We have a situation in several of our reservations in South Dakota where they have half of the manpower that they need for good quality law enforcement. We have a reservation, the Rosebud reservation, where they have [more than 1 million acres] of land to cover and they have [about] 20 law enforcement agents where they need 40. That’s not acceptable. They can’t do a quality job of law enforcement when they’re spread so thin that they can’t even cover half of the territory. Again, it comes down to resources and being able to provide not only the monetary resources but the appropriate training for them to handle the situations that they’re facing on reservations.

What else would you want people to know?

What I want people to know is that South Dakota and the reservations in South Dakota deserve a representative who’s going to be there for them, who’s going to be speaking for them, who is going to be standing up and making sure that their voices are heard and that the priorities of South Dakota are put before the political priorities of the representative and that’s what I will provide for South Dakota.

Related: Kristi Noem Tackling ‘Third World’ Conditions at IHS Facilities

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