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Landmark Settlement Ensures Native American Voters Have Representation

Lyman County Board of Commissioners will immediately appoint a Lower Brule tribal member to serve, as Commissioner Brian Kraus has agreed to resign his position next week.

LOWER BRULE, SOUTH DAKOTA, December 15, 2022 – The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the Lyman County Board of Commissioners announced a landmark settlement agreement today to accelerate the timeline to provide Native American voters in Lyman County with a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe commends Lyman County Board of Commissioners for taking bold steps to ensure that all voters in Lyman County have a fair opportunity to choose their candidates.

The settlement recognizes that the voices of Native American voters matter. County Commissioner Brian Kraus has agreed to resign his position as a commissioner on December 13, 2022, paving the way for the county commission to appoint an enrolled Lower Brule tribal member to complete his term of office. The consequential appointment of a Lower Brule tribal member as a commissioner will mark the first time in Lyman County’s history that a tribal member will vote on county decisions that impact the Lower Brule community.

The District Court had previously required that the county move up to the 2024 election​ when the district encompassing the Lower Brule reservation was required to elect Native-preferred commissioners. The Lower Brule Tribe commends the Lyman County Board of Commissioners, especially Brian Kraus, for agreeing to move even more swiftly so that tribal members will have one voting representative beginning in 2023.

“For 30 years, we have had no say in how the Lyman County Board of Commissioners served this part of South Dakota and this agreement ensures that reservation voters may elect representatives to advocate for people that live on the reservation and be part of the team working for solutions,” said Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Member Stephanie Bolman-Altamirano.

The settlement promotes civic engagement by ensuring that Lyman County takes reasonable steps to inform voters of the new changes to the voting system. Public education will provide tribal members and other voters with the information they need to understand the changes to Lyman County’s redistricting plan. Informing voters in Lyman County of their right to representation encourages public participation in the democratic process.

“This agreement ensures that reservation voters may elect representatives to advocate for people that live on the reservation and be part of the team working for solutions,” said Bolman-Altamirano.

The settlement protects the rights of Native American voters in Lyman County going forward. The consent decree, in effect until 2034, ensures Lower Brule voters have a fair opportunity to elect two seats on the board, as the law entitles them.

“Mutually respectful cooperation can make anything happen and ideally this agreement signals the start of teamwork in Lyman County and on the Lower Brule reservation, and this agreement protects our ability to work together over time,” said Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Vice Chair Cody Russell.

The Tribe and individual voters secured representation from the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Public Counsel, the Law Office of Bryan Sells, the Law Office of Randy Seiler, and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to file Lower Brule Sioux Tribe v. Lyman County Board of Commissioners.

“This settlement agreement is historic. For the first time, Native Americans will have a voice and a seat at the table in Lyman County. Through compromise, the Tribe and county worked out a resolution that will protect the rights of Lower Brule Sioux Tribe voters for at least the next 12 years,” said NARF Staff Attorney Samantha Kelty.

Chief Judge Roberto A. Lange got it right: ‘Cooperation between the Tribe and the County, between Tribal members and non-Tribal members, is crucial to the future of Lyman County,’” said Tara Ford, senior counsel at the public interest law firm Public Counsel.

Read the Consent Agreement here.

More About the Case here.

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About the Native American Rights Fund (NARF)
NARF is a non-profit 501c(3) organization focused on applying existing laws and treaties to guarantee that federal and state governments live up to their legal obligations to Native Americans. Since 1970, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF)​ has provided specialized legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide to assert and defend the most important Native rights. In hundreds of major cases. NARF has achieved significant results in critical areas such as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, voting rights, and Indian education. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @NDNrights to learn about the latest fights to promote justice and protect Native American rights.

About Public Counsel
Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal justice and opportunity for all for more than 50 years.​

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