It’s shocking, yes. These were the kind of signs that were displayed here in Watertown, SD in the 60’s. Although we would like to believe that our little town would not have such displays, they did. In the 60’s my father, Aaron T. Louis, was the ONLY Native American living inside Watertown.
This Native American Day, I am reminded of the discriminations us Indigenous people deal with, in this “great state” of South Dakota. My Dad was an educator, a drafter, a sportsman…and yet he was not allowed many places here in town. As you can imagine it must have been so hard for a biracial couple to feel safe and comfortable in a town that didn’t want them. My Dad is an avid golfer and yet he was “blackballed” from the country club. When I ask questions regarding our family and it’s dissolution it was stated by him very simply…”It’s hard to keep a marriage together, when you can’t go the same places with your wife.”
We don’t talk about these things, I’ve never really spoken to my parents about my experiences either. Is it fear? I don’t think so. Is it shame? No, I don’t think that’s it. Its sadness, its anger, its disgust. We don’t talk about it because it didn’t affect just my parents but trickled down to us girls. I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to hurt my parent’s feelings. Nor do I like to think about it. It took me a year to discuss the issues at LATI with my Dad, as he holds that school close to his heart. Why? I don’t want to ruin his good memories of Watertown, and his colleagues.
As I watched the John Lewis special on CNN I found myself trying to swallow that lump in my throat. The anger and hate displayed on Mr. Lewis and the Freedom Riders is the same anger and hate placed on us now. Where racism is mostly focused on the African American Community, ours is mainly towards the Indigenous. We don’t question authority because we blindly trust. Then as always, we are disappointed because it just goes away. When tribal members call on the government for talks, I see the fear. I see the rolling of the eyes when racism, discrimination, addiction are mentioned. We all know the America we live in has consistently took advantage of our ignorance of the law. Then when we are told to get educated we are taught lies, along with the other students, and the discrimination and stereotypes live on. If you have dark skin, you aren’t given the same niceties as Caucasian people. We can’t work hard and do our shopping like “Normal” people with our hard-earned checks. No, we cash our checks and we go off into Walmart, all the while being followed by the employees. Which I must add, at the direction of the Hispanic Manager. We actually help breed the race on race hate in the school system. I’ve actually heard him speaking to the front-end manager saying, “I wonder what they are gonna steal today?”
We see the looks of disgust when it’s the 10th of the Month. We know what businesses to stay out of and what bars we aren’t allowed in. Until recently, No Native person was allowed to go into a particular bar. This was enforced in ’94 by the owner. It wasn’t like he posted signs, but we all knew and the customers of his knew. It started after a particular incident, that I know of personally. While we just left it as a non-issue, it was silently followed.
So imagine the anxiety when my boyfriend wanted to go to lunch there. Last time I thought it all had blown over, he pulled out a baseball bat. But all went well, had a good lunch, BUT I was with my White boyfriend. I told some of my friends about it and they couldn’t believe I actually was allowed in and to sit down. What am I the Rosa Parks of the roadside bar? These feelings and attitudes shouldn’t be.
We want to believe, as residents, that racism is a big city issue but it’s not. I have been followed, been hustled, been treated rudely for just being a customer. I’ve been looked over for jobs, I’ve even been discriminated against from a manager from Freedom when a friend help get me an interview, she actually said “Oh your Indian.”
I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is. I’m loud, I’m vocal, and I’m concerned. In the past 2 years there has been a larger than normal amounts of Native people dying. Most are addictions, but they can be saved it’s just no one wants to take the time or make the effort to help. Why are you so scared to make yourselves available to your fellow human being? It took 3 weeks of hustling and many meetings but I was able to get my Uncle in a home. In addition, he made the decision to go to treatment, so you cannot tell me it can’t be done!
I’m going to face my feelings and my fears and ask the big questions. I will be doing an interview with my Dad, I want to know the attitudes and behaviors of Watertown then, compared to now. The story of one solitary Indian to the legacy he left us, Louis girls.
I think you and I will be surprised.
Asquali, Miigwetch, Pidamaya, Thank You.
(Danielle E. Louis, Hopi, Adopted by Dakota family-Campbell’s, guided by Lakota family, Daughter of a Southern raised mother, who tried her best to give us equal value in society)