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Native Sun News: A ripe and rank case of theft of Rapid City land

Filed Under: Education | Law | National
More on: boarding schools, doi, heather thompson, native sun news, rapid city, south dakota, treaties

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer, and Heather D. Thompson. All content © Native Sun News.

Cecelia Montgomery

A ripe and rank case of theft
How Native Americans were swindled out of the Rapid City Indian School lands
By Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer, and Heather D. Thompson, Esq.

Part I | Part II | Part III

RAPID CITY — In reviewing the findings in the Black Hills Claims, U.S., Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said, “A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history.” The same can be said of the theft of the Rapid City Indian School lands in Rapid City.

The U.S. Government’s Act of 1948 authorized the Secretary of the Interior to dispose of more than 1,200 acres belonging to the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.

Department of Interior (DOI) was authorized to give the land away to the City of Rapid City, the Rapid City School District, or to the National Guard for free (with a “reversion clause” once the land was no longer being used).

Through this process, the following were granted free Indian Boarding School lands: SD National Guard received 583 acres for the establishment of Camp Rapid; the City of Rapid City received 207 acres for the park system, which is now called Sioux Park; and the Rapid City School District received 152 acres for three schools including Canyon Lake Elementary, West Middle School and Stevens High School.

In addition, the statute also allowed the DOI to sell Indian Boarding School lands to churches. This language was added as an amendment by a Congressional committee, and questions have been asked about the constitutionality of selling federal Indian Boarding School lands to religious organizations.

A subsequent statute, the Act of June 4, 1953, provided for the conveyance of other Indian boarding schools’ lands throughout the United States. This Act made no such provisions for religious organizations.

Through the Act of 1948, however, local Rapid City churches purchased nearly 200 acres of the Indian Boarding School land, some of which they have subsequently resold for housing developments.

Refer to the accompanying graphic for the list of the churches making the original purchases, with the Diocese of Rapid City making the first purchase in 1949.

By 1954 questions about these sales to local churches caused the U.S. Department of Interior Solicitor’s Office to issue a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In the Solicitor’s’ Letter of November 29, 1954, the acting solicitor clarified that these sales cannot be “donations” or be for a “nominal value,” but that the DOI needed to ensure the sales were made at “fair market value,” and “should not be less than that [of] competent appraisers.”

Perhaps most disconcerting to the Rapid City Indian community, however, is that during each of these land transactions, the tribes and the local Indians were also attempting to acquire these Indian Boarding School lands.

The second section of the Act of 1948 specifically allowed the DOI to utilize the Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands for “needy Indians.” However, this authorization was never used.

Despite dozens of requests, not a single acre was set aside for the benefit of Indians. Every acre of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School land that was passed out went through the first section of the act, to Rapid City, the Rapid City School District, the South Dakota National Guard, and local churches.

The closest the federal government came to triggering the second section of the Act, utilizing the land for the benefit of “needy Indians,” was its participation in the unscrupulous land transaction which created the “Sioux Addition,” a Native housing community in northern Rapid City.

In the early 1950s the Native community moved specifically for the placement of a housing community within the Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands. In 1951, however, 165 Rapid City residents signed a petition opposing the placement of Native Americans on the west side of town.

Internal DOI documents reveal a political debate between the Rapid City and the federal government as to who was responsible for this “problem,” the location and housing of Native Americans.

The federal government did not want to utilize the second section of the Act of 1948 which would have allowed a land trade with the City, because that new land would still be under federal control and thus might still carry responsibilities to Native Americans.

Therefore, the City and the federal government devised a plan which could credibly be called “land laundering.” The DOI used section one of the Act of 1948 to give 27 acres to Rapid City.

Rapid City then sold those 27 acres to the Rapid City School District for $15,000 to build West Middle School. Arguably this sale of Indian Boarding School land should have triggered the reversion clause. But the DOI was a participant in the transaction.

The City took the $15,000 from this sale and gifted it to the Mayor’s Committee on Human Relations. This non-governmental committee then purchased land far north of the city, with no water, electricity or services, and turned this land into individual plots for the benefit of “needy Indians.”

Thus the “Sioux Addition” was born. It was not federal land, nor city land. The “Sioux Addition” was now privately purchased land and no longer the “problem” of either government.

Compounding this sleight of hand is the fact that many of the Native American families did not understand the “land laundering” which had occurred. Therefore, most families moved into the “Sioux Addition” believing that the land had the same non-taxable and federal legal status as the Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands where they had originally requested residency.

As such, many families lost their home plots to property taxes. In addition, many families still living in the “Sioux Addition” still believe they are a part of the specially protected lands which the federal government reserved exclusively for Native Americans in the treaties in return for the Tribe’s concessions of the remaining lands which now make up the State of South Dakota.

In 1968 a Lakota Water and Sewer Sanitary District had been established which allowed the Public Health Service to provide water, sanitary sewer, and garbage disposal at Sioux Addition. For 14 years the community existed without those services.

In 1966 the Sioux Addition Civic Association (SACA) was established. SACA has ownership of a few plots. The rest of the plots are owned by individuals to this day. SACA president and spokesperson Tad Montgomery has asserted that the civic association will push forward with inquiries into the legality and validity of all transactions that concern the Sioux Addition.

(Native Sun News has been very diligent in the writing of this series of stories. We did not move forward until documentation and corroboration was fully obtained. The histories of the Rapid City Indian School, the Sioux Sanitarium, the current Indian Health Services and the Sioux Addition are so vast that it was like opening a can of worms. Native Sun News remains committed to following up on every new development and working closely with the Sioux Addition Civic Association. NSN believes there are still some stones left unturned)

(Contact Karin Eagle at

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