J.R. LaPlante has been named associate vice president for the Wokini Initiative at South Dakota State University, SDSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dennis Hedge announced Thursday, May 25.
LaPlante’s appointment is pending South Dakota Board of Regents approval. He will start serving in his post June 5 and will report to the Office of Academic Affairs.
He currently serves as the director of tribal relations for Avera Health, lead contact for Avera’s American Indian Health Initiative, and is a Native American law attorney.
“We’re pleased to have J.R. LaPlante join SDSU’s leadership team to help strengthen our mission to build tribal partnerships and better serve our American Indian students on campus,” Hedge said. “His unique background in tribal relations within health care, governmental, legal and tribal entities will be a tremendous asset for the university. We are very fortunate to have someone with his credentials be a part of this very important effort.”
SDSU President Barry Dunn, who launched the Wokini Initiative in 2016, said he is excited to have LaPlante in this position to continue to build strong relationships throughout the university and state on behalf of its Indigenous students.
“The Wokini Initiative would not be possible without the support and effort of many people, and J.R. LaPlante will help SDSU continue to provide opportunities and open doors for hundreds of American Indian students in South Dakota to pursue the benefits of higher education,” Dunn said. “The Wokini Initiative is critical to support our university’s mission of access, and J.R. will have a crucial role in helping to provide a bridge between SDSU and the many communities of South Dakota that are home to our Indigenous people.”
In his new position, LaPlante will provide vision, leadership, coordination and direction for the Wokini Initiative, SDSU’s collaborative and holistic framework to support American Indian student success and Indigenous Nation-building, offering programming and support to the citizens of South Dakota’s nine tribal nations in pursuit of higher education.
LaPlante is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and is a 2009 graduate of the University of South Dakota School of Law, with an undergraduate degree in sociology from Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
LaPlante was formerly the state of South Dakota’s first secretary of tribal relations, the tribal liaison and assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of South Dakota, chief judge for the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, an Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps legal fellow, a Bush Foundation Native Nation Rebuilder, and the administrative officer for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
“I am excited to accept this new role to help South Dakota State University build meaningful relationships with tribal stakeholders through the Wokini Initiative,” LaPlante said. “We are committed to advancing opportunities for our American Indian students. Our goal is to foster success while on campus and upon graduation.”
The Wokini Initiative builds upon SDSU’s current tribal partnerships and American Indian Student Center services to enhance cultural programming and support for American Indian students; offer Wokini scholarships for students who are tribally enrolled or have descendancy through a federally recognized tribe in the United States including Alaskan Natives; and enhance research and outreach partnerships with tribes, tribal colleges and other tribal organizations.