What was that I said—wait, that the City of Pierre said—about workers recruited from out of state not sticking around? That's not Huron's experience.

Where Pierre's workforce development project is all about cultivating workforce among existing residents, Huron going big on recruiting and retaining workers from the other side of the planet. Since 2007, 2,500 Karen refugees have come from Burma to live in Huron. The Karen came at first to work Huron's big turkey plant; they now hold jobs in 30 Huron area businesses, and Huron wants more. The big ticket item on Huron's workforce development grant application (which the state approved for the full $125,000 requested) is "Diversity Engagement," which includes more direct recruitment of Karen refugees in surrounding states, more English classes, more job fairs targeted at workers who aren't fluent English speakers yet, and more big Karen cultural events like soccer, volleyball, and cane ball tournaments and Karen New Year celebrations (January 5—welcome to 2754!).

Huron also plans to use its state grant to sponsor more management training classes. It's one thing to learn enough English to get a job at the turkey plant; it's another to learn enough English to run a production shift and budget meetings. Huron needs more of its Karen residents, who now hold one out of nine jobs in Beadle County, to be able to move up the ladder and fill the white-collar jobs from which baby boomers are retiring.

By the way, Huron's application states that in a survey of Karen residents, it found that "100% of participants felt welcomed in the community and had experienced no racism since arriving." That cultural acceptance is a key part of getting folks recruited from elsewhere to stick around. Huron and the state appear willing to invest heavily in pening their doors even wider to convince these newcomers to stay.

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BBC Pop Up's Matt Danzico and Benjamin Zand posted one more video of their stay in South Dakota, this one an introduction to their journey to South Dakota, their first impressions of the state, and their first chats with Sioux Falls folks... at Hy-Vee!

Notice that...

  1. Governor Daugaard's marketing campaign at Chicago obviously hasn't made much of an impact; the folks Matt and Ben chatted up in the Windy City appear to have negligible Top-Of-Mind Awareness of our fair state (and the nice lady
  2. Check your big city pretensions, Sioux Falls: Even South Dakota's greatest metropolis strikes urbane outside observers as "the middle of nowhere," just like Madison.
  3. Fitness, Native issues, concerns about Indian children in foster care, teacher pay, opposition to Keystone XL, even a desire for more Europeans to come visit—wow! the random Hy-Vee crowd sounds like a bunch of progressive Madville Times readers!

Thank you for spending some time with us, BBC! Come back any time!

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BBC Pop Up, the British broadcaster's new "mobile bureau," spent December in South Dakota. BBC's Benjamin Zand spends a few days on Rosebud and Pine Ridge talking to young people (42% of South Dakota's tribal population is younger than 25) about their identity and aspirations.

Among those appearing in this video snapshot:

  • "America is a stolen country," says Justin Rowland, guide at the Wounded Knee Massacre site and descendant of Lakota people killed by the U.S. Army at the site 114 years ago.
  • Sicangu Lakota Shane Red Hawk has participated in Cowboy and Indian Allians protests against the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Willi White and Indigene Studios co-founder Angela White Eyes are working on their first major project, The People, a futuristic dystopian short shot entirely on Pine Ridge.
  • Scatter Their Own duo Scotti Clifford and Julia Brown Eyes-Clifford says their music "pays tribute to the concepts and philosophy of their Lakota culture while fusing Alternative Rock and Blues into what they would like to call Alter-Native Rock and Roll. They believe that their music celebrates Grandmother Earth." (Calm down, Sibby. It's just rock and roll.)
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Dander is up in Madison about a December 17 article on SBNation.com about the Dakota State University football team. Head coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with how Duara portrays his program in his exposé of the shady pay-for-play nature of NAIA football. I'll have more to say about Anderson's heartburn and Duara's thesis in a separate post, but for the moment, I'd like to critique Duara's journalistic skill and apparent cultural biases.

In his attempt to paint some cultural context for his far-flung readers, Duara, who grew up in Florida, got bad grades in J-school in Missouri, and now lives in Oregon, opens his piece by painting my hometown as Nowheresville:

The Middle of Nowhere, the very dead center, is probably somewhere on South Dakota's Country Highway 40 in Lake County. The city of Madison, pop. 6,474, birthplace of Entertainment Tonight co-host Mary Hart, is a good enough place to start looking. The town's motto is "Discover the Unexpected." That's as close to a warning as you'll get [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Middle of Nowhere? Duara has apparently never driven out to interview Larry Rhoden in Union Center.

While I am glad to get an outsider's perspective that matches with my own long-standing assessment that our town marketing slogan invites ridicule, an article that opens with two glaring inaccuracies does not bode well for the writer's commitment to the truth.

  1. There is no "Country Highway 40" that runs through Madison. There is a county road designated as "40," the old pavement that runs west from Bourne Slough, turns to gravel where the old highway curves north at the old implement dealership, and continues west to the back end of Lake Herman State Park and Dirks Resort. Look at all the places on even that back road!
  2. The population of Madison, by the most recent published Census estimate, is 6,949. 6,474 was the 2010 Census count.

Duara isn't making things up when he says Madison is quiet, even on a home game day. "Madison is in a perpetual state of quiet during the harvest season," writes Duara, "when life in the Midwest should be rowdiest." Duara misses the fact that on a sunny October day, that harvest may have many people out in the fields working (which Duara saw on his way into town, men in a combine, but failed to put two and two together). I don't know what Saturday Duara visited, but he also ignored the competition of hunting season, which could draw many sportsmen away from the stadium for sport of their own. For all his striving to be an astute cultural observer, Duara seems to have been wearing blinders to some fundamental aspects of local culture.

Duara then gets personal in a way that further reinforces my impression that he wrote more of what he wanted to see than what he really saw. I don't know what to say about the journalistic credibility about a writer named Nigel Duara who says DeLon Mork is a funny name. "Unlikely" is the word Duara chooses to describe one of the most respected names in South Dakota business. Duara also sees fit to cast Mork in Fargo:

Mork owns the Dairy Queen in town, as did his father and his grandfather. He survived testicular cancer, twice. On National Blizzard Day, he outsells any DQ in the country. He busies himself around the store, fiddling with the shades or clearing counters. Customers leaving get a "see yuh!" in his heavily-accented speech from the Upper Plains. People like DeLon Mork.

A few wins and a few more close losses have him in high spirits.

"Aw jeez, dey're just turnin' it around up there, aren't dey!" he says, his perpetual smile brightening. He, perhaps more than anyone else, believes in this team and his friend, Coach Anderson [Duara, 2014.12.18].

Duara provides no phonetic transcription of anyone else's speech in this article. He certainly doesn't attempt to capture the regional flavor of the speech of California transplant Robert Johnson and his acquaintances back in exotic Palo Alto. He quotes Trojan player Cliff Marshall in standard English, with complete ending consonants and no hint of his Chicago dialect. He gives a hint of dialect from Johnson and another ineligible player, Collins Macauley, whom he catches leaving out a linking verb and an auxiliary verb in the midst of arrogant presumption against their coaches ("These the real coaches... they calling everything wrong") and using foul language.

Duara takes the one local booster who more passionately than any other can challenge Duara's desired portrait of Madison as a losing town and paints him as an ill-spoken yokel.

As Duara acknowledges, people like DeLon. I like DeLon. And DeLon's a tough enough guy that he probably doesn't care what Duara says about him. But I take it personally that, in pretense to literary wit, Nigel Duara thinks that twitting DeLon Mork, not to mention the entire town of Madison, helps advance his thesis that DSU football is part of an abusive NAIA system.

Were he to notice, Duara would likely twit my response here as small-minded, small-town defensiveness, another aspect of the dull culture that annoyed him so one sunny Saturday in October. The thing is, I agree with much of Duara wrote: Madison is not a big-league town. Dakota State University does not play big-league football. But Duara, with his simple inaccuracies and cultural bias, is not writing like a big-league journalist.

Bonus Copy Editing: Duara says Johnson has a tattoo consisting of "blueish rhombuses." I have a hard time finding a dictionary that will attest blueish as a preferred or even acceptable alternative spelling to bluish. And come on: if you love language, if you're swinging for the literary fences, you don't miss a chance to say rhombi.

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In a toothless column whose only apparent purposes are to (1) fill a slow news weekend with useless chatter, (2) maintain access, and (3) get a last squeeze or two from all those folks Googling "South Dakota" and "jerk", Jonathan Ellis pats South Dakotans on the back for not electing arrogant jerks to Congress.

Ellis wraps his non-headline around how rarely South Dakota's congressional staffers bad-mouth their bosses:

Staffers of South Dakota’s current and former congressional members don’t tell those kinds of stories. Sure, their bosses might be demanding. That is, after all, how you get elected to Congress: Setting and then achieving goals and demanding success. Politics can be tense, and maybe tempers can flare. But at the end of the day, South Dakota’s congressional members have gotten high ratings from their staffers [Jonathan Ellis, "S.D. Doesn't Send Jerks to Congress," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.27].

Yeah, Congress stinks, but not my Congresspeople! That fantasy is how we re-elect 96% of incumbents.

Ellis's claim is as valid as saying that since GOAC didn't say much bad about Joop Bollen or Mike Rounds, South Dakota's EB-5 program must not have had any arrogant jerks other than Richard Benda doing monkey business. It could be that we don't hear "horror stories" about our Congressional delegation because our Midwestern-German-Norwegian-Lutheran reticence keeps staffers from blabbing about their bosses more than their New York and California counterparts (though Ellis gives us no out-state examples; he just asserts that monsters abound elsewhere and tucks us into our safe little beds of self-satisfaction). It could well be that former South Dakota Congressional staffers still have bread to butter and speaking ill within the small, close-knit South Dakota political network would bring out something other than butter knives. It could be that reporters embedded in that same network can't afford to go digging for, much less publish, dirt on our two Senators or our sole Representative.

But hey fine great—take Ellis at his word. Johnson, Thune, Noem, Daschle, Herseth Sandlin—all nice people, and we're all darned nice for electing them. Ellis even mentions Pressler, whose fond former staffers launched perhaps the sweetest ad of South Dakota's 2014 Senate campaign.

Wait a minute: speaking of Rounds, where is he? Ellis makes no mention of the newest member of South Dakota's "Not a Jerk" Club.

Well, when you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Maybe Ellis is just embodying one more example of what wonderful people we are. Or maybe it's just passive aggression.

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Among the victims of the multiple shooting in Sisseton Saturday was Vernon Renville, Jr., also known as Vernon Redday. Lake Traverse Reservation newspaper Sota Iya Ye Yapi reports that Renville advocated for LGBT rights in Indian Country:

Vernon was a gentle giant of a young man, physically large and with an equally big heart. He was known for a sense of humor. And he’d volunteer for any walk or campaign to bring awareness to some of the most important problems on the Lake Traverse Reservation. Whether it was awareness of domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, prejudice/racism, you-name-it. And he was a strong voice for the LGBT community. His brothers and sisters of the Two Spirit movement are mourning along with Vernon’s family and lots of other friends. We remember him during last winter’s Idle No More walk through snow-covered streets of Sisseton [CD Floro, "Tragedy in Sisseton: Young Oyate Lives Lost in Shooting," Sota Iya Ye Yapi Online, accessed 2014.11.24].

Two Spirit is an Anishinabe term. This social work sheet elaborates:

Two-Spirit is a Native American term that is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. Two-Spirit is a Native concept: Will Roscoe writes that Two-Spirit people have been "documented in over 130 tribes, in every region of North America, among every type of native culture.” Different words are used for Two-Spirit people in different tribes, and the word Two-Spirit may have different meanings in different Native languages. Some tribes may not have a commonly known and used word for Two-Spirit people at this point in time.

Historically and culturally, Two-Spirit people were respected and honored by their tribes. Their gender roles in the community included protecting children; being parental/partners; helping in ceremonies; gathering food and medicine; caretaking; and serving as peacekeepers, name givers, and spiritual leaders. Due to oppression (including homophobia/transphobia) and historical and intergenerational trauma there are issues that may disproportionately impact Two-Spirit/Native LGBTQ people today [Tom Lidot and Lenny Hayes, "Sharing Our Lived Experiences," National Resource Center for Tribes and Tribal STAR, 2014].

Renville had to learn that history to understand his Two Spirit identity:

Renville struggled to find his place as a Two Spirit in his tribal community, but through prayer and asking his elders about the place they held in Dakota culture, he has found some wisdom. “I discovered that we weren't actually outcasts. We weren't shunned or anything, that we were actually highly-revered people and we were assassinated – I guess you could say – by the Europeans” [Alfred Walking Bull, "First S.D. Two Spirit Society Honors and Educates on the Reservation," The Circle, 2014.10.11].

Renville co-founded the new Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Two Spirit Society, the first such LGBT advocacy group in South Dakota's nine reservations:

Members of the newly-formed Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Two Spirit Society gathered on Sept. 26 to educate members of the tribe on LGBTQ Native issues while honoring one of their own who was killed earlier in the month.

The group – the first Two Spirit society in any of the nine reservations in South Dakota – began its mission in June of this year. A testament to the growing power of social media on the reservation, the event “Gay is OK” was the impetus for forming the society. “We all went out to the corner, stood outside and held signs. And while we were standing there, we talked about forming a society, so we set a meeting date and from then on, it's been going ever since,” Vernon Renville, society co-founder said [Walking Bull, 2014.10.11].

In Renville, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate has lost an organizer and a fighter for equality.

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Curmudgeon does not begin to plumb the depths of commentator David Newquist's disgust toward the corruption of South Dakota politics. In his latest blog post, Newquist examines the difficulty South Dakotans have in facing the corruption in their midst:

People in the state speak of being “South Dakota nice,” which is the façade of bonhomie which covers a resentful insularity toward people who don’t conform to and endorse the South Dakota attitude. The so-called EB-5 scandal, which should properly [be] called the South Dakota tradition of corruption, produces the response of many people that they are tired of hearing about it. Some simply do not want to face the fact that there is a huge blemish of corruption on that face of niceness. Others, a plurality, support, endorse, and enable those who practice the creed of greed, power, and corrupt relationships with their corporate gods. They cannot or will not face the looming fact that dominant culture in the state supports and enables corruption, nor can the plurality accept the fact their attitude bears final responsibility for promulgating and protecting the corruption. The corporate gods beam down on them through Mike Rounds’ smile [David Newquist, "The Seeds of Corruption Produce Bumper Crops in South Dakota," Northern Valley Beacon, 2014.10.27].

South Dakotans, do yourselves a favor and prove David Newquist wrong. Show that you can recognize and reject corruption when you see it. Vote accordingly.

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David Newquist knows how to bum me out. His pessimism about South Dakota's political landscape makes it hard to keep up hope for liberal democracy in our fair state.

Hearing my complaint about the difficulty of finding good candidates to challenge the Republican status quo, Dr. Newquist explains the paucity of Democratic standard-bearers as the logical result of sensible people steering clear of the character assassination the SDGOP adopted as standard operating procedure in 2004 to defeat the successful and well-accomplished Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle with the pretty but feckless John Thune.

When Thune challenged Tom Daschle in 2004, he hired Dick Wadhams as the campaign manager and dutifully recited the scripts Wadham supplied him with. Wadhams returned to the state as a campaign advisor to Mike Rounds and is now employed by the state Republican Party. Thune had acquired a record as a House of Representatives that was feckless and lacking in accomplishment. To challenged Tom Daschle, who is a highly accomplished legislator, he could not afford a comparison of records or stances on the issues.

The strategy was to avoid issues, policies, and legislative record and accomplishment and attack Daschle personally. A most successful ploy was to play to the resentment among South Dakotans of anyone who has accrued success and recognition outside the boundaries of the state. The Thune campaign played up Tom Daschle’s attaining the majority leader of the Senate as an abandonment of the people of the state for the culture of Washington, D.C., and declared it as his major residence. He still owned and returned to his house Aberdeen, where his mother lived when he returned to the state. The campaign also attacked the press for the coverage it gave to the Senator and Senate majority and played up the assumption the press had liberal leanings and gave Tom Daschle partial treatment. Then it attacked Daschle because his who was a successful lobbiest for the airline industry had once been a beauty queen for whom he abandoned his first wife. The Thune campaign also knew that Daschle is of a principled character that would not engage these personal assaults in kind [David Newquist, "A State That Gave Up Politics for Character Assassination and Petty Hatred," Northern Valley Beacon, 2014.07.10].

But it takes two to tango, and those two aren't just the SDGOP and mudslinging mercenrary Dick Wadhams. Newquist says those scurrilous attacks work only in a defective political culture where a majority of voters accept them:

In South Dakota, character assassination is embraced or dismissed as acceptable among a majority of the voters. The designated voice of the state GOP, South Dakota War College, when it is not posting hackwork tributes to its candidates, is totally devoted to the discrediting and malicious besmirching of Democratic candidates. Its posts have a disregard for accuracy and factual truth. It is simply an exercise in mindless scurrility. If this is, as it claims, the most read blog on state politics, that defines a state with a cultural climate that people of good and good purpose wish to avoid [Newquist, 2014.07.11].

Newquist says the South Dakota Republican Party "defines the essential character of the state":

The dominant attitude in the state is that of ignorant, malevolent rubes who love to hate and dwell on personal resentments they harbor against those who achieve and have successes in other parts of the world [Newquist, 2014.07.11].

Newquist says that as long as power-seekers outnumber problem-solvers and as long as South Dakotans don't mind the destructive games those power-seekers play, we're hosed. People of good conscience will emigrate, and South Dakota will breed supermajority conservative Legislatures and wild-eyed red-state moochers for the foreseeable future.

If Newquist is right, changing South Dakota's political course isn't just a matter of finding more liberal candidates and dedicated statehouse reporters; it's a matter of changing a culture fueled on conservatism and ugly spite.

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