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Forging a Rapid City identity

Tribes like Crow Creek, Lower Brule, and Rosebud are as close or closer to Sioux Falls then Rapid City, but they mostly choose to come to Rapid. The Indian Community in Rapid City is now 20,000 strong, and that is because they have internalized this spot, as the off reservation gathering point, and a deep history and connection has developed, especially with North Rapid.

Many tribal members were born or raised, or both, in Rapid City. Their numbers exceed the population of any given reservation. But these people, collectively have no comparable identity, and no power, unofficial or otherwise. There are no official agencies representing their interest, and the attempts to define who they are, and to empower them to defend their collective interest, have all failed. Most Indian people in Rapid City have felt the sting of racism and social marginalization far more than their families back on the reservation.

The Sioux San is a classic case in point. Originally, a long swath of land running from the east edge of the Gap to Stevens High School, it was set aside for “needy Indians.” By one scheme or another, the city has acquired most of this land, even though it was never officially repurposed. The people of Rapid City utilize this land in complete ignorance of how it was mis-acquired, that this process violated their own laws, not those of the tribes.

If we extend our empathy to white people, we can reason that it must be difficult for them, given that dark, dishonest history, to process what they have acquired in a positive light, to assign the noble ideals their Constitution espouses to the actions taken to get that “needy Indians” land. Most get by just being completely ignorant of the history, but many rationalize the taking in one way or another—“They never did anything with this land. All they ever did was hunt and fish!”—and the whole idea is to force firm footing back on the right side of history, no matter what truth they have to trample over to get there.

No people want to carry such guilt around on their shoulders. Not when they can lay all the guilt, all the incriminating cultural baggage, on the shoulders of history—“We didn’t do this, history did it!”

For people like this, Indians are a lingering, loitering, anachronistic mistake, something they must tolerate, and something that puts a wart on the otherwise noble face of the American dream. Many live their whole lives, generation after generation, and seldom have to deal with anything Indian. They just as well live in another place, another country, on another continent, for all the interaction they have with the surrounding tribes, let alone the Rapid City Indian Community.

For their part, the Rapid City Indian Community can do little to better their lot. They arrived here from different reservations, piecemeal, with no official connection or leadership, and they appear to have no great desire to forge a separate identity from the tribes where they are enrolled. Many steps could be taken, forcing a mandatory Indian Community alderman onto the city council, lobbying Congress hard to get some sort of federal recognition and funding, encouraging and assisting members of the Indian community to start businesses, like the barbershop of Dom Clucas (nowhere in SD can you get a better haircut), but until the community recognizes itself, and learns to work together harmoniously, this will never happen.




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