Every Saturday, Buffalo Post features stories from Native Sun News, published in Rapid City, S.D.
By Randall Howell
Native Sun News Correspondent
RAPID CITY – Sometimes, political candidates do everything right and still lose the general election.
That’s the situation that the only American Indian on this year’s South Dakota statewide ballot has found himself in more than once during his political career.
However, Ron Volesky, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, doesn’t see himself as a loser at all. If anything, he’s a self-confident “this year” candidate.
“I intend to win the state attorney general’s race on Nov. 2,” Volesky, a Huron-based attorney, told Native Sun News.
“It’s shaping up to be a tough race,” said Volesky, who faces the state’s incumbent attorney general, Marty Jackley, a Republican running in a state that has been dominated by GOP officeholders at the statewide level for decades.
“We’ve got to get the vote out, particularly in places such as the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock – all nine reservations across the state,” said Volesky, who is the Democratic Party’s candidate for the office of the state’s attorney general.
“I’ve got the experience to meet the challenges in that office,” said Volesky, a Harvard graduate. “But I need help from the Indian vote. I ask South Dakota’s Native Americans to empower themselves so that we get a good vote on Nov. 2.”
Winning the American Indian vote is fundamental to Volesky’s campaign and the former 16-year veteran of the South Dakota State Legislature wastes no time letting the voting public know that.
“We are making a strong effort on the reservations to get out the vote,” said Volesky, insisting that he has “deep concerns” about the “situation in Shannon County” – a situation that threatens to disenfranchise Lakota voters.
“Were I the attorney general – a position that I consider to be the second most powerful in the state – there would be no doubt that I would be down there. I would personally go to Shannon County to gather information and make decisions. That just has to be done.” said Volesky, who was born in Bullhead on Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
“It’s a travesty and someone needs to speak out,” he said. “It takes some effort by someone who cares and that doesn’t seem to be the attitude put forth by the current top leadership in South Dakota.”
Volesky, whose mother – Sophie Brown – lived in Bullhead, was “adopted out” when he was six years old. He was adopted and raised by the Volesky family in Huron, where he graduated from Huron High School, Class of 1972.
“I would bring everyone together, gather the needed information, put the people and machines in place and guarantee early voting for Shannon County’s Indian and non-Indian voters,” said Volesky, who graduated from Harvard with a degree in government and international relations.
His master’s degree in journalism and mass communications was earned at South Dakota State University – Brookings in 1977. By 1980, he was at the University of South Dakota – Vermillion, earning his law degree.
Returning to Huron, he has been running his own law firm while being seriously involved in South Dakota politics – first as a Republican, then switching to the Democratic Party.
“I spent 16 years in the State Legislature and three years on the Huron City Commission,” said Volesky, who with his wife, Tara, have four children – Tyler, Turner, Tucker and Taylor.
The two oldest are in college at Dakota Wesleyan University – Mitchell and at USD – Vermillion. Third oldest is a junior high school student in Huron and the youngest is an eighth-grader in the Huron public school system, according to Volesky, whose political career involves 14 years in the state’s House of Representatives and two years in the state’s Senate.
Among the 16 years of committee assignments Volesky had in the State Legislature was the Tribal Relations Commission. He also served on the state affairs, judiciary, commerce, and transportation and bonding committees.
“The Democratic Party nominated me as its candidate for attorney general in 2002 and 2006,” he said, recalling that he came in second in a four-man primary race for governor in 2002, when the party put him on the ticket for attorney general. Earlier this year, he again announced his candidacy for governor, but withdrew when the party asked him to take the attorney general’s slot on the ticket.
“Next to the governor, this is the second most powerful office in the state,” said Volesky, who understands the prosecutorial nature of the position, but also sees it broadening to include an opportunity “to develop a very strong leadership role for cooperation with all tribal governments” in the state.
“As attorney general, I plan to visit each of the tribes regularly, discussing issues, as well as listening to their concerns,” said Volesky, who sees the attorney general’s position as more of “a prosecutorial friend” than as a “prosecutorial enemy.”
He said that so many issues remain to be resolved among the state’s tribes, as well as between the state and any individual tribe.
“I see the law enforcement office as very visible and that Indians know it’s just a phone call away,” said Volesky, who sees himself “personally interacting with each tribe on a regular basis.”
Volesky cited jurisdictional issues as among those that remain “of concern” for tribes and law enforcement. He also said that the Black Hills claims “need to be settled. They need to be addressed once and for all.”
He also discussed Whiteclay, and called for rethinking of “the buffer zone” issue.
“It’s been around since 1882,” he said. “I think we should be trying to re-establish the buffer zone. Whiteclay then could be removed” from its town site.
“What I want to stress is that the tribes will have a listening friend,” said Volesky, who also called for the organization of Shannon County. It’s an unorganized county now, but I would like to see it as an (legally) organized county.”
He said that would be in “the best interests” of those living there … to find themselves with a county seat.
“Funding would have to be nurtured from the grassroots level. Some kind of taxing resolution would come into play,” he said.
“But it takes an attitude of leadership. And, I’m willing to do it. I want that to be a strong stand in my campaign,” Volesky concluded.
Contact Randall Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Harvard, Huron City Commission, Marty Jackley, Native American voting, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Ron Volesky, Rosebud Indian Reservation, Shannon County, South Dakota State University, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Tribal Relations Commission