Denver Post columnist Roscoe Fleming wrote in 1962, “No wonder those four great Americans look so sad looking down from Mount Rushmore.” “Because they see inconsistent and persistent racism.”
In South Dakota at the time, it was not uncommon to see restaurant and shop signs reading, “No Indians allowed.”
Today, the signs are down, but the VOA has heard from dozens of Native Americans in South Dakota who say racism is rampant in their lives and is particularly prevalent in Rapid City, the state’s second largest city.
It was there, as VOA previously reported, that Gateway Grand Hotel owner Connie Uhre announced in March that she would no longer allow Native Americans on the property after a shooting there; Later, she turned down two members of the Indian-led non-profit NDN Collective, who tried to book a room at her hotel.
Sunny Red Bear, NDN Collective Director of Racial Equity, is one of two disapproved services. The NDN Collective, abbreviation for “Indian”, is an Indigenous-led organization in Rapid City that works to empower natives.
“Rapid City, like many places in America, has a long history of racism that many white people are committed to perpetuating on both a systemic and interpersonal level, whether they know it or not,” she said. “People in positions of power in Rapid City continue to undermine the lived experiences of native people and people of color in the community by not stating that systemic racism exists in Rapid City.”
Janet Davis, the daughter of a Lakota mother and a white father, described growing up in a town where she said she was constantly embarrassed.
“When I was in seventh grade, there was a school dance,” she said. “And this nice guy asked me to go with him. But later he told me, ‘I can’t go with you because I found out you have Indian blood. You’re a class—W.'”
She used an ethnic and sexual slur for indigenous women.
In April, while in Rapid City Hospital, Oglala Lakota rights advocate Hermes Bettelune posted on Facebook, “Now I have a room for myself here. My [white] The roommate found out that my skin wasn’t the right color for her. He asked the doctor if they could shake me because he didn’t want to ‘breathe the same air’ [me],
Native American residents of the city complain of being stalked at local businesses, turned down for jobs, and taunted for “going back on reservations.”
“I have spoken to many mothers and fathers whose children are experiencing racism in schools, getting their hair cut by other students, the prairie n-word,” Red Bear said.
Many expressed the belief that the state government was racist.
critical race theory
In April, South Dakota Governor Christie Noem signed an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s elementary school system. CRT is an academic theory that states that racism is not simply the product of personal bias or prejudice but is embedded in the legal systems and policies of a country.
“I think his message to us is that we don’t matter and basic experience in South Dakota doesn’t matter,” South Dakota Democratic State Sen. Troy Heinert, a Sikangoo Lakota citizen from Rosebud Reservation, told Native News Online. Told in April.
Red Bear said it sees the move as a continuation of historic assimilation policies.
“A lack of education and a lack of conversation about the history of what has happened to indigenous peoples is perpetuating crazy, harmful… stereotypes,” Red Bear said.
“I am a fifth-generation Rapid City,” said JB, who asked the VOA to withdraw for fear of repercussions. “Until the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I was just another white man. But when that murder happened, something came to my mind. I can tell you Rapid City is on the front line of a lot of racism right now. Called a racist city for a reason.”
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender believes there is a huge divide between “some of the Native American population here and non-native citizens”.
“If you look back in history and even in the present, racism is there on all continents,” he told VOA. “There’s nothing different or special about Rapid City when it comes to humanity’s flaws.”
“What I think should be pointed out,” he continued, “is that in Rapid City, it takes center stage in the news cycle, whereas there are other parts of the country where these kinds of things happen. [goes on] And the reaction is nowhere near it.”
According to a 2019 report by the US Civil Rights Commission’s South Dakota Advisory Committee, South Dakota has a history of “turbulent race relations,” dating back to early white settlement.
The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty designated a large area west of the Missouri River as a Special Area of the “Great Sioux” tribes—the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota.
After an 1874 expedition confirmed gold deposits in the Black Hills, miners moved to the area. When the Lakota refused to sell the mining rights, the government ordered a reservation for them and sent troops to protest. The armed conflict that followed saw the defeat of George Custer at Little Big Horn in 1876, the killing of Lakota leader Sitting Bull in 1879, and the massacre of several hundred Indian men, women and children at Wounded Knee.
And, as noted by the South Dakota Civil Rights Advisory Committee, “racism and discrimination as a whole continued to significantly affect indigenous populations in South Dakota into the twentieth century, and some scholars argue that it is itself today.” suppressed political participation and inequalities among criminals in the justice system.”
Native Americans were made citizens in 1924, but South Dakota did not allow them to vote or remain in office until 1940. Between 1976, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, and 2002, South Dakota passed more than 600 laws and regulations hindering native voting. In some jurisdictions with large native populations.
South Dakota is today home to nine Indian reservations; The 2010 Census shows it leads the country in the percentage of Native Americans living below the poverty line; More than 50% of Native Americans in Rapid City live in poverty.
The First Nations Development Institute conducted a two-year nationwide survey of public opinion about indigenous peoples. In their conclusions:
- Most Americans know that Native Americans were oppressed and their land was stolen, but don’t know about the violence involved.
- Non-Natives largely create and control narratives about Native Americans, focusing on deficits such as poverty, alcoholism, and poor health.
- Most policymakers and judges have little knowledge of the core issues and do not understand America’s treaty obligations to tribes who ceded land to the US in exchange for education, health care, housing, and other protections.
- Non-natives living near reservations in areas with high unemployment or economic stress may be resentful of these rights.
Rapid City Mayor Allender said he believes the eradication of racism is an unrealistic goal.
“We can certainly reduce it and we can certainly create an environment where its outward manifestations are not acceptable,” he said. “I want every citizen, whether tourist or resident, fair-skinned person, black-skinned person … to receive equal treatment, to have equal opportunities.”
He expressed dismay at the homeless population of the city.
The city’s annual “point in time” count of homelessness, conducted in January, showed 458 non-domestic adults and children, 350 of whom were Native American. Twenty-nine reported substance abuse, and 28 had severe mental illness.
“Almost all of our homeless people in Rapid City are Native American,” Allender continued. “And a lot of them are drunk. And let me tell you, the homeless are a violent group.
The Red Bear of the NDN Collective is a Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.
“All the talk about our non-domesticated relatives and that Native people have a tendency to alcoholism is accompanied by many other related misconceptions that feed the idea that we are morally weak because of the so-called inability to control ourselves. These stereotypes are extremely harmful and highlight the lack of compassion and empathy for those who are struggling.
In March, NDN Collective filed suit against hotel owner Connie Uhre and called for a citywide boycott of businesses with racist policies and practices. Tribal leaders in South Dakota have suggested they move annual events such as the Lakota Nation Invitational Basketball Tournament and Black Hills Povo, which generate millions of dollars in revenue for Rapid City.
The collective said it would not back down until the city imposed “concrete consequences” on racist business owners.
This has angered some white citizens.
“Clearly, the Uhre family and their right to engage in commerce have been targeted for the unforgivable sin of unpopular speech,” one resident wrote to the Rapid City Journal, comparing the boycott to “racketeering.”
Mayor Allender also opposed the boycott.
“This hotel is still closed. They probably suffer well into the six figures of economic loss if they are laid off in a few months,” he said, pointing to the irony of it: “You are offended because one family killed an entire group of people.” Judged by the actions of the One, and now your response is to judge the entire community because of the actions of the One?”