A Champion for Indian Country

December 11, 2020
Weekly Column

Congress gets a bad rap for never getting anything done. It’s not completely undeserved, but every single day bills pass out of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

This week was no exception. My legislation to honor former Congressman and Rosebud Sioux tribal member Ben Reifel passed the U.S. Senate and is headed to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Former Congressman Ben Reifel was a strong proponent of the Indian Civil Rights Act and fought to ensure that tribes received proper compensation for native land transfers. He was a leader in Congress on Indian Affairs and the first person of Lakota Sioux descent in Congress.

After the bill passed Congress, I received a letter from the granddaughter of Ben Reifel, Lisa Moss. She said, “Shortly before he passed in 1990, he attended a rally held for President George H. W. Bush, (41). President Bush publicly recognized my grandfather, who was in a wheelchair by then. My grandfather, when recounting the event to me, commented that that was quite something for someone whose life started in a log cabin with a dirt floor, living in poverty, on the reservation.”

Ben Reifel was a champion for Indian Affairs policy, and he is more than deserving of this recognition. The bill officially designates the United States Postal Service building in Rosebud, South Dakota, just miles down the road from Reifel’s birthplace, as the Ben Reifel Post Office Building.

Lisa Moss went on to say in her letter, “While many pieces of legislation loom large, maybe this one does not…But H.R. 2454 looms large and significant in our hearts. Knowing that Ben Reifel's legacy will carry on in South Dakota is precious to us.”

It’s not earth-shattering legislation, but Ben Reifel represented South Dakota well, and his legacy will live on. I’m grateful to play a small role in ensuring his name is displayed throughout our great state. Our tribal communities are full of tremendous leaders and Ben Reifel is proof of that.