Racism on table in Rapid City
By Joseph Budd
Native Sun News Today Staff Writer
Monday Night in Rapid City at the Western Dakota Vo-Tech Event Center, a gathering of Native Americans and people of interest attended a forum to highlight several issues regarding racism in the community. In a snapshot of the community and the region, several of the key speakers would be from Pine Ridge, while Rapid City would see a city councilwoman, the CEO of Elevate Rapid City, the CEO for the NDN Collective, a member of the Youth City Council, Mason Big Crow and Dew Bad Warrior-Ganje. Also in attendance was members of the Human Right Coalition-Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors, who would help host the forum.
After a prayer and short message from Richard Moves Camp and a local pastor, the floor was turned over to Bryan Brewer, who would speak about how the tournament he’s best known for, the LNI, was founded due to racism. “We had problems, with filling out our team schedules for basketball, as other schools didn’t want to travel to pine ridge. They also didn’t want our schools to go visit, afraid we would bring violence with our teams.” When Brewer approached the State, they suggested her set up a tournament. So that was the start of the Lakota Nation Invitational. Starting with just 7 teams, “we had the fire chief stop by every night due to overcrowding at the gymnasium.” So after two years, the brand new Civic Center was opened, and they were able to move the event to the new building. He did mention that he was approached, about the idea to move the Tournament to another venue, outside of Rapid. To this he said “This is our home, our land.” He then also started highlighting some of the things they’d seen, such as the highway patrol, staking out the road at the county line, stopping people at the border. After finally meeting with the Sheriff and the mayor, they were able to put a stop to it. Another time, there was an issue with the Sheriff’s department going into the LNI, to serve warrants and arrest folks. “I don’t know of this happening at any other event at the Civic Center either. One of the last events he also touched on, was a few years back, a hotel denied an entire team from staying at their hotel. Brewer was on the phone with the Mayor, who then said, let me get the City Attorney, and we’ll meet you over there.”
He did, in his relaxed way, address issues on racism, is for white people to admit the problem, He said “Natives may fight with each other, but we still live together. He has lots of friends here. One of the standing items, he mentioned with the LNI, was the reconciliation, that led to the inviting of Custer to attend the tournament, so the athletes can get used to playing together, moving forward. This will be their 41st year, at the Civic Center, and Wall, will be the newly invited team to play in this coming LNI Tournament. He also mentioned, that our hope, lies within our young people.
The next person to speak, was Tom Johnson, the CEO for Elevate Rapid City that also housed the meeting of Elders following the Grand Gateway debacle. Some of the things, he mentioned, was the numbers that a boycott would cause to Rapid City, and how foolish it would be to ignore the problem. He noted, that Native American consumer spending, figures out to about 360 million dollars a year in the Rapid City area. The Workers, pull in 131 million dollars in payroll, and make up about 3000 jobs within the city. And on the city side, this also equates to 14 million dollars in taxes that would be lost. Should a boycott completely lock down the city, a lot of essential work would come to a halt, from roads and services, to programs like Elevate and the Vision Funds. Tom would also speak about an event that Bev Warren, a friend of the City, had seen as a young girl. She was walking downtown with her grandpa, and saw a sign in a window that said, No Indians allowed. For a people, who live here, they estimate the city is 12 percent Native American, but given the under reporting, it could be closer to 15-16 percent.
The next person to speak, from the City Council was Darla Drew-Lerdal, who is the outgoing Ward 5 representative, but also will be campaigning for House District 34. She would share, how she is a “lifer” here in rapid, having grown up by the rapid creek on a street that no longer exists due to the flood. She remembers, when Lakota people lived by the creek, and were rendered homeless as well, plus she talked about her son, who when attending school was the only white boy out of all natives in a circle, it was a learning moment, to know how they felt in the same situation. When she worked with the Gear Up program, she would see at times, going into stores, how some places would watch the Native Americans, watching to see if they’d steal something, and it made her uncomfortable. Probably the biggest eye-opening event, was going to a movie theatre, with 100 Native American boys, to go see To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie theatre was unsure how this would all go, but the students, soaked it up, at times talking about “They said the N word!” and how the characters in the movie were cast. They enjoyed seeing a piece of movie history, a point in the country’s history, and had they not been able to, would have denied them a chance to learn. She also remembered, about 7 years past, they had about 300 Native Americans wanted to go swimming in the summer. And a local pool, declined to let them go swimming. Restaurants as well, some would let people eat inside, others wouldn’t. Her major item to take away on this, was that “it’s not a color, it’s a culture. Bring their culture forward.”
Adrianna Young, from the youth City Council, would talk shortly about issues relating to the trauma and how the genocide, radiates to this day, intergeneration ally, manifesting in pain that to this day lingers. She also mentioned, that this can lead to people experiencing depression, seeking alcohol or drug use, trying to dull the pain they feel, but not sure why. Adding into it, the feelings of isolation, in a culture and location they are not familiar with, or even seen as equals, adds to these feelings. The fear of being personally attacked, housing issues and teachers showing a lack of knowledge, manifests these problems. Finishing out with the Loss of loved ones, teens need to “acknowledge the issues plaguing the city today.”
Dew Bad Warrior, from the Black Hills Pow Wow would have a slide show, highlighting all the events and participants from “one of the top pow wows in the country” and how this event, is run by Volunteers every year, but brings in about 3 million dollars to the community every year. It has been going on for 13 years, and the last three years they had the numbers for, they broke 10,000 participants each year, except for 2019 due to a bad storm that year. Growing, the pow wow now also features North America’s largest Youth Day, bringing in about 4000 students to attend, and also in growing, has events like Hand Games, Archery, Golf, a Softball tournament, and Horse Races.
Mason Big Crow, who had to drive up from Pine Ridge, would speak on the economics of what Native Americans mean to the city, touching on numbers but also, where their money goes. Given the American Recovery Plan funds, he mentioned Menards saw about 28 million in funds to help fix up houses and trailers on the reservation. Lowes would also see almost a million dollars too. Menholt Chevrolet, a local car dealer, in two years had 936 thousand in sales, and Tires Tires Tires saw a bit of work, making almost 100 thousand, working on wheels. McKie Ford, would see 1.1 million, and in total, about 9 million dollars would come into Rapid City. Adding in 6 million from Covid money as well, travel costs for meetings there’s about 18 million plus in funds for the community, “and that’s not counting regular folks.”
The last speaker, Nick Tilsen, from the NDN Collective, spoke a bit about how philanthropy was part of the problem, regarding Systemic Racism, and how his organization is working to make sure funding actually reaches indigenous people. His example, how they’d funded 33 million dollars, to help Native American groups within the country, and as well 150 organizations directly. Headquartered in Rapid City, he would also mention the effort this Friday, of finally closing on the land for the new school to be built. He feels, that this will help indigenous students see something that they are missing, in the local school district, and hopefully address the classroom to the pen system that is prevalent in South Dakota. He mentioned the fact, “Native Americans make up about 10 percent of the population, but 50 percent of the people incarcerated.”
During the open question time, Tilsen also responded to a question, regarding if there was a pattern, regarding drop outs at the local level, affecting the economic issues faced by Native Americans. He would point out that on a question about our current schools, show a graduation level for Native Americans around 25 percent, while non-natives had a graduation rate being 85 percent. To this he said, “of course this shows a wealth gap. For every dollar a white person makes, a native makes about 8 cents. That’s a wealth gap.” He felt part of it is due to the education system, not being able to help students, and after working with the schools to try and change the platform, this was why they are now going to build their own school, to hopefully address this shortfall, and help the students learn about their own culture, their own identity.