If you haven’t been to the annual buffalo roundup, believe me when I say it’s an event no South Dakotan should miss. “The rumble starts underfoot as the first of 1,300 buffalo crest the hill,” the event’s materials read. “One can feel the thunder as the mighty animals stampede toward the Buffalo Corrals.”

I’ve been able to take our horses out and help roundup the buffalo a handful of times, and each time, I’m reminded of this animal’s power and at the same time amazed by how close the species came to extinction. Fortunately, tribal leaders, ranchers, and conservationists came together to save this resilient animal. Today, one of the world’s largest herds is in South Dakota and the annual roundup is a critical part of keeping the herd healthy.

What the buffalo’s survival teaches about resilience is powerful to many, but the animal is especially important – both physically and spiritually – in Native American culture. Buffalo (or Tatanka, as they’re called in Lakota) offered food, shelter, tools, and clothing. Native Americans could make soap from the fat and homes from their hides.  Every piece was used, which is why buffalo were – and continue to be – a symbol of survival and a cultural example of how to live in a healthy and productive manner.

For all these reasons, I was proud to lead efforts to declare the buffalo as our national mammal last year. I’m hopeful that by finally recognizing the buffalo in this way, we’ll be able to celebrate the American frontier and the resilience that has long distinguished our country from others around the globe, while also sharing our nation’s Native American heritage.

In South Dakota, we set aside time to recognize this important heritage every year on the second Monday in October: Native Americans’ Day. Today, nine tribes find their home in South Dakota, and I continually fight for greater opportunity within their communities.

Last Congress, I helped champion the NATIVE Act, which was signed into law in 2016. This legislation aims to create more tourism opportunities in tribal areas, which I’m hopeful will help boost struggling economies. I also worked closely with those in Indian Country to create a permanent Office of Tribal Relations within the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the last Farm Bill and helped advance the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, which became law in 2014. This legislation ensures those who receive support, like school supplies, from tribal governments are treated the same as those receiving similar state and federal benefits.

But more must be done. I’m fighting hard to reform the Indian Health System, which has had several documented cases of mismanagement and fatal care. I’ve also introduced legislation to combat suicide in Indian Country by building stronger relationships between state and tribal governments. I was also very pleased to see a provision pass the House in late-September to make the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECV) Program, which helps provide services like parenting education, much more affordable to tribes.

Native American heritage is woven into South Dakota’s story, much like the buffalo is.  Tribal traditions have enriched our culture and played an important role in the American journey.  Please join me on Native Americans’ Day in recognizing and honoring their influential heritage.

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