Secretary of tribal relations confirms he was not reappointed to position in Noem's cabinet

Republican Kristi Noem celebrates her election to South Dakota's governor's office on Tues., Nov. 6. in Sioux Falls. She is the state's first female elected to the role. Matt Gade / Forum News Service

RAPID CITY, S.D. In a brief address to the Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee, the secretary of South Dakota’s Department of Tribal Relations confirmed that he will not continue in his role upon the inauguration of Republican Gov.-elect Kristi Noem in January.

Secretary Steve Emery said during the committee’s meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 12, in Rapid City that he was not reappointed to his position and his last day will be Jan. 4. A Rosebud Sioux tribal member, Emery has served as the department’s secretary since 2014 and previously served as a judge in several of the state’s nine reservations.

Emery also told committee members that his senior policy analyst David Reiss is leaving the department on Friday, Dec. 14, “so we’re going to be having a very different-looking department.”

“I’m pretty proud of the last four years,” Emery said. “I think we’ve got some great things accomplished and I hope they continue.”

Democratic state Sen. Troy Heinert, who chairs the committee and was recently named the state senate minority leader, said Emery has been “been a bright footprint in how the tribes and the state can work together,” and emphasized his work in improving tribes’ health care, education, transportation, housing and more.

Noem has appointed 13 members to her cabinet so far, and six spots remained unfilled as of Wednesday afternoon: secretaries of agriculture, education, human services, social services, tribal relations and veterans affairs.

Noem’s transition team said in an emailed statement Wednesday, “Governor-elect Noem is committed to finding a Secretary of Tribal Relations whose first priority is serving the tribes and people of South Dakota, someone who understands that the job isn't about them, but about producing real results for our state.”

On her campaign website, Noem said she plans to enhance the Department of Tribal Relations, and called it, “an important tool state and tribal governments can use to build dialogue around areas of common ground,” and added that the secretary “will be an integral member of my cabinet.”