Melvin Martin: Denial and racism in border towns
It's been brought to my attention recently through various emails from a portion of the readership of my op-eds here at Indianz.Com that there exists two other U.S. cities that may rival Rapid City, South Dakota, in terms of anti-Indian sentiment: Farmington, New Mexico and Bemidji, Minnesota.

Some of my Navajo friends have informed me that until about ten years ago or so, it was quite common for white teens and young adults in Farmington to light firecrackers (and even cherry bombs) in the "booties" of Indian alcoholics (of both sexes) who were passed out in public. And I've been told that the white majority in Farmington is, like Rapid City, in a state of deep denial as to the serious nature of the racism that is directed towards the Indian community. Having never actually been to Farmington, I have not had an opportunity to personally gauge the depth and extent of this problem that, from what I perceive, is growing in both magnitude and intensity there.

Now, I do know about Bemidji on a very personal basis as follows:

Bemidji, Minnesota--like Rapid City, South Dakota (where I was born and have lived a good portion of my life, and where the racists have to consist of at least 75% of the population of the Rapid City metropolitan area of about 60,000)--is a prime example of denial on a large-scale as it relates to race relations between whites and Indians.

First of all, exactly what is denial?

Denial can best be described as a psychological defense mechanism in which a person is confronted with a fact that is too upsetting to accept and rejects it, asserting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The person may choose to totally deny the reality of the awful fact in what is known as simple denial. Sometimes they may admit the fact, but deny how serious it is, a process called minimization. Denial has long been categorized as a device of the so-called "immature mind," because it generates great conflict with one's capabilities to learn from and contend with reality.

Additionally, when anyone is engaged in negative behavior that is so self-directed and wholly willful, they are almost always in full denial of it. In Rapid City, the racists become extremely angered when they are confronted in an articulate manner as to their Indian-hating actions and practices--thus, I have come to believe that the amount of psycho-emotional energy that is needed to maintain strongly racist sentiment is directly commensurate with the energy necessary to deny it--which explains to me this near-psychotic overreaction on the part of the racists when their hatred is pointed out to them in no uncertain terms.

People who are deeply mired in the quicksand of denial will always overreact to the, even civil, illumination of their denial: try to politely and lovingly tell a hardcore dope fiend or a raging drunk about the destructive nature of denying that they have a problem--then, watch out!

Since I have also spent a little time in Bemidji and Minneapolis--I know all-too-well how bad the anti-Indian racism is in that area. I was the only Indian student at a private trade school in Minneapolis in the summer term of 1982, and the desk that I was assigned to was right behind a partition that was connected to the student break area. The mainly white students, most of whom were guys in their twenties, often said the most horrendous things about Indians that consisted of the usual and more widely believed stereotypes relative to Indian people.

I had a girlfriend then, Maye, who was half-Vietnamese and half-French, and who lived in Bemidji. She was in her late twenties then as was I. When I first met her (at the trade school), she told me that she had been mistaken for Indian by almost all of the whites she had encountered in Bemidji. She also told me that she had been treated very badly on occasion by whites who had said hateful things to her as they thought that she was Indian.

Maye related an incident to me that brought tears to her eyes as she talked about it. She told me that she had exited a bus in downtown Bemidji when a crowd of white teens began to "woo-woo-woo!" in the stereotyped Indian fashion. The teens then began to chase her with several of them yelling out loudly that they were going to "rape us a squaw!" Maye ran into a convenience store where the clerk called the police.

Maye was a refugee from Vietnam who had already witnessed a great deal of ugliness in her former homeland, but she told me that the incident that happened in Bemidji with the teens had frightened her more than the assorted horrors of war as she thought that she was at least physically safe in the United States of America.

Lastly (and I know it's trite), but what is the name of the longest river in all of the world? De-Nile

Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He can be contacted at

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