Christmas wishes for South Dakota
It’s the holiday season, and children throughout South Dakota are likely playing in the snow, enjoying their time off from school, and playing with the toys Santa brought them.
If some of Santa’s magic could be applied to South Dakota, or if New Year’s resolutions worked for states, here are five things I would wish for.
1. That living conditions on the state’s American Indian reservations would finally improve, or at least stabilize.
South Dakota is consistently ranked as one of the most business-friendly states in the nation. Thanks to that business-friendly climate and our strong agricultural sector, we’ve dodged many of the effects of the national recession. By and large, people here are pretty well off.
That’s not the case in places such as the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian reservations. They consistently rank among the poorest places in the nation, with few signs of improvement.
2. That rural communities would remain vibrant.
South Dakota’s greatness was built upon the backs of farmers, ranchers and shopkeepers in small communities throughout the state. Many of those small communities are fading away as technology and the economics of scale reduce the number of people necessary to work the land.
Places like Sioux Falls and Rapid City are growing, but most every little town in the state is shrinking. If South Dakota loses too many of its rural people, it will lose an awful lot of its soul.
3. That the state’s resources would be used responsibly.
A crude-oil pipeline was recently constructed through eastern South Dakota, and there’s a proposal to build another one through western South Dakota. In the southeastern part of the state, there’s a proposal to build a crude-oil refinery. In south-central South Dakota, about 100 wind turbines are being erected as I write this.
All this energy-related activity is great for the state’s economy. I just hope it won’t come back to haunt us in the future. I hope enough safeguards are in place to prevent and/or quickly contain a pipeline leak. I hope technology has advanced to the point that the proposed refinery won’t be the ugly smoke-belcher that so many people envision. And I hope somebody or some agency is carefully overseeing the location of wind turbines, so that the wide-open spaces that are characteristic of South Dakota won’t be overly spoiled by the site of spinning blades atop high towers.
4. That the state’s history would be preserved.
South Dakota has one of the most interesting and diverse histories of any state in the union. It wasn’t that long ago when western South Dakota was the nation’s frontier, and the Black Hills were the frontier’s mysterious heart.
That history continues to influence the state in many ways, but we South Dakotans sometimes aren’t attuned to it. Some of the same traits that make South Dakotans a great people — a strong work ethic, a no-nonsense attitude, and humility — also make them shy away from talking about themselves and preserving their own stories. The study and discussion of history is often shoved to the background and viewed as unimportant, but that’s self-defeating. A large part of the reason so many people vacation in South Dakota is because the state is still imbued with the same frontier-like mystique that fascinated Americans centuries ago. The preservation of our history is therefore not only important for our collective sense of self, but also for our tourism economy.
5. That fewer of the state’s people would fall victim to addictions.
South Dakota has never been known as a state with a severe drug problem. One of the reasons people say they like South Dakota is because it’s relatively safe and drug-free. Yet binge drinking is widespread, and it’s common to hear a media report about somebody being arrested 10 or more times for driving under the influence.
I think much of the alcohol abuse stems from being in a landlocked, sparsely populated, severe-weather-prone state. Alcohol is sometimes the only thing people think they can turn to. Add video lottery and Indian casinos to the mix, and there are plenty of lonely places for addictive personalities to get their fix.
Things like drinking and gambling are certainly here to stay and can be engaged in responsibly. I just wish a movement toward more responsibility could sweep through our culture, for the good of everyone.