Melvin Martin: Diplomas and dog faces in Rapid City
So, Rapid City schools this year are "enjoying" an increase in the number of Indian students graduating from school, according to an August 4th (2009) article in the Rapid City Journal. The 2009 Indian graduation rate at Central High School, the school having the largest enrollment of Indian students in the district, is 55%.

Questions: What is so enjoyable about a graduation rate that anywhere else in the country is regarded as outright atrocious? What is there to celebrate at all about this incredibly sorry state of affairs? The absolute bottom line insofar as graduating from high school is that it is the primary determining factor as to success in life. High school graduates go onto college, high school graduates transition easily into trade and vocational schools, and high school graduates realize much better first-time employment experiences than do non-graduates.

In Rapid City, a town with a gruesome legacy of widespread employment discrimination towards its Indian population, having a high school diploma is indeed a vital component in any Indian job seeker´s protective armor in such a hostile environment. Yet, for an overwhelming majority of Indian high school, vo-tech, and even college graduates, the road to personal survival, much less obtaining the American Dream, in Rapid City can be terribly daunting in so many ways. The following account, presented here as is, was emailed to me last week by "november_rose," an enrolled member of a California tribe, and her story is just one of who knows how many others?

"Mr. Martin,

In one of your previous writings you mentioned how bad the employment discrimination was towards Indian people in Rapid City. Now that these issues are being exposed nationally, I´d like to share what happened to me there.

I moved to Rapid City from California in 2000 with my mother and my son. I looked for work as soon as we arrived there. I am a high school graduate with a two-year degree in Office Technology and I also have over twenty years office experience. I´ve worked for the Los Angeles County Library system, private doctors, and temporary office assignments through Kelly Girl Services and other temp agencies in Southern California. I have excellent and verifiable references on all of the jobs that I´ve held. So, when I moved to Rapid City, I thought I would have no problems whatsoever finding work.

However, that wasn't to be the case. I had my resume' in order and applied at various offices and libraries. I guess I was able to get interviews because my last name is of Spanish origin and I don't have the typical "Rez Indian" accent. But when I met several employers I was told I didn't have enough experience or was told the job was already filled. I lived in San Diego and Los Angeles and never once had any problems finding work. I did notice right away that all the office staff at these businesses where I applied were Caucasian.

Living in California, I never ran across situations like in Rapid. It made me feel awful. They went by my ethnicity and not my experience. I am a very friendly, easy-to-get-along with person and customer service is my best skill. I did get a job after three weeks of searching. I worked as an electronics assembler for a company on Rapid City´s north side. The supervisor there said that it would be easy for me to get a job with them (because I have a good work history), just not in the office. I noticed the same thing there, only white people worked in the offices.

One thing I never came across in my life until I moved to Rapid City was the "hate stare." I lived in Florida as a child when my dad was in the Air Force and I remember black people talking about the "hate stare." This stare was directed at me everywhere I went in Rapid City, but especially at interviews from non-Indians in office settings. I asked Indians I met about why they stared so much like that and to a person they all replied it´s because they really hate Indians here and they always have.

I also noticed that there were many clean-cut, well-qualified Indian males who also applied for work at the same company where I was hired, but they were not hired as I noticed that the assembly employees were all women. On my second day on the job an Indian woman came up to me on break and we became fast friends. I soon realized why. We were the only two Indian women working there on our shift and there were two other groups of Caucasian and Korean women. No black people were working there at all, although there were several who applied when I did. Fights broke out on almost a daily basis between the whites and Koreans. The white women were so hateful and jealous towards these gentle, soft-spoken, hospitable people. I ended up leaving Rapid City for good as I realized that as an Indian person, any employment and career opportunities there are extremely limited."

"november_rose," also sent a recent picture of herself with her email, and she is very much the consummate American Indian professional woman, a person who would be an invaluable asset to any company or organization anywhere--except in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Right before I left Rapid City in 2007, I applied for a part-time job as a line cook at an eatery on the town´s north side that I was told was in desperate need of workers. I have certificates of completion from trade school in commercial baking, food services, catering, and I also have several years of related experience that this restaurant´s job ad required.

I was interviewed by a woman that I at first thought was a man. This individual looked at my application for less than ten seconds and then very brusquely told me that since I worked another job on Sundays (teaching English as a second language at a local church) that they would not hire me. I explained that I worked in the morning at this job and that I could work around my current schedule, but the woman stated that it was the manager´s policy to simply not hire anyone who worked elsewhere on Sundays (that I later found out was complete BS). Though disappointed, I was civil and as I left I politely informed the woman that I would "get the word out" (that I am now doing most effectively via this op-ed).

So, where was this "desperation" for workers that I had heard about?

One thing I´ll never forget about this particular woman was that when she told me that I would not be hired she took great joy in dismissing me. Her face could best be described as "dog-like," in that her lower jaw protruded way past her upper jaw and her eyes and forehead reminded me of a grouchy, old pit bull I once owned. She also had a noticeably long, lower-left incisor that, as she grinned wildly at me, stuck out and over the top of her lips.

This dog-face was to me most representative of the racially inspired hatred that has long been directed at Rapid City´s Indian people--for it was truly the face of a most wicked oppression and the very face of the evil that men do (and that lives after them).

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

Related Stories:
Melvin Martin: The Kansas City Roll in Rapid City (7/28)
Melvin Martin: Not much change in Rapid City (7/24)
Melvin Martin: Rapid City, you've done it again! (7/16)
Melvin Martin: So what else is new in Rapid City? (6/15)
Melvin Martin: Even more truths about race in Rapid City (5/19)
Melvin Martin: More truths about race in Rapid City (5/4)
Melvin Martin: The truth about race in Rapid City (3/31)