Robert Flying Hawk: Hate and racism too common in Rapid City

Robert Flying Hawk. Photo from Yankton Sioux Tribe via NMAI

The Yankton Sioux Tribe wishes to express its extreme disdain for what can only be described as hate-fueled and racist conduct directed at a group of Lakota youth last month.

On January 24, 2015, 57 students ranging in age from 9 to 13 from American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were being treated to a special reward for their academic successes with a trip to Rapid City, South Dakota, to attend a Rapid City Rush hockey game.

At some point during the game, a group of white men who had been drinking in the Eagle Sales VIP Suite directly above these bright, enthusiastic young Native students began to assault the children, hurling beer and racial slurs at them. The students' reward trip was cut short and they left after the unprovoked violence started, but there is no doubt that the mental repercussions of that incident will remain with them long after the thrown beer was washed off.

Our children our sacred. They are blessings. And they are our future. The damage caused by any racist act is inexcusable, but when that act is directed at innocent children the price is far greater. Rapid City has a history of violence towards Native Americans that is still ongoing and that cannot be swept under the rug, but must be confronted open!y, honestly, and realistically. Healing these wounds will take time, but justice must be swift.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe stands in solidarity with American Horse School in its efforts to seek justice for this terrible incident. The Chief of Police has called for patience during the ongoing investigation, and while we recognize that protocols must be followed to ensure justice can be carried out, we urge the Chief of Police to utilize every resource to expedite the investigation process and take into custody those individual who perpetrated the assault so that the families may begin to feel some sense of relief.

Individuals have already been identified as suspects, and they must be apprehended immediately so that they cannot perpetrate further acts of racially motivated violence or even retaliation while this criminal matter is pending.

We further call upon the federal authorities and U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson to pursue federal hate crimes charges against the men who verbally and physically assaulted these young Native students. There can be no doubt, given the derogatory racial comments shouted by those white men at the young Native children, that their actions were driven by hate and racism.

Amongst the negative elements brought out by this incident, there have also been positive elements and we wish to express our thanks to those individuals who witnessed the incident and who stepped forward in support of the students and the school. American Horse School has asked that any individuals who would like to submit an eye witness statement or letter of support do so by email, ahschool@goldenwest.net, and we encourage anyone who can assist in this way to do so.

American Horse School's vision statement reads: "We will stand together to create a healthy learning environment so that our children at American Horse School will have the opportunities to acquire leadership competences for building a better future by achieving a level of greatness experienced by our people carrying on the values that are uniquely and beautifully Lakota."

We must ALL stand together for these things. And we as lhanktonwan stand together with our Lakota relations in this demand for justice for all of our children.

Robert Flying Hawk serves as chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

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