Tim Giago: Racism continues to be tolerated in South Dakota

Tim Giago. Photo by Talli Nauman

Ranking South Dakota on racism and inequality
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Native Sun News

South Dakota in general and Rapid City in particular, appear to have cornered the 2015 market on racism, inequality and lack of justice.

Almost every Indian who moved from the state’s nine reservations to cities like Rapid City and Sioux Falls has experienced racial prejudice in one form or another. It could have come in the form of housing, employment or by the local banks. Or it may have come from the local utility companies who used to charge a hefty deposit from Native Americans to get electric or gas service. Whatever form it came in it was here and it hurt.

My parents moved to Rapid City from the Pine Ridge Reservation in the early 1940s because my father got a job at the Rapid City Air Force Base. I still was sent back to the reservation every fall to attend boarding school. But one year my parents decided to keep me and my younger sister Shirley for one school semester. We then attended school at the old Roosevelt Elementary School on East North Street. The school is now a gigantic pawn shop.

One day my friend Edgar Lone Hill and I walked one of our classmates, a young white girl, home after school. When we got to her home we were stunned when her mother reached out and yanked her daughter into the house and turned to us and said, “You dirty little Indian boys stay away from my daughter.” We were shocked and it hurt because she was a classmate of ours in the 4th grade and we just thought of her as a friend. She was never a friend to us after this.

The beer throwing incident in January at the Rushmore Civic Center during an ice hockey game clearly puts an exclamation point to the topic of racism. Once again young Indian children were subjected to a form of racism they had never experienced in their lives.

I find it appalling when I am told by my white friends, especially those who are newcomers to Rapid City, about the hideous racial remarks they are subjected to by some residents of this fair city. They suppose that because they were white they should concur and condone these racial comments. Instead they were also appalled and shocked. “You’ll find out for yourself about these dirty Indians after you live here for a while,” they are told.

Racism is here, it is being debated and perhaps it can be overcome. But what about inequality? There are few jobs offered to Native Americans by the city, county or State. Eradicating inequality should begin at the top. The governor of South Dakota, Dennis Daugaard (R-SD), has every opportunity to address this issue. He made openings for several boards this week and not one Native American was included.

When he is given a list of names for judgeships, administrative positions that are open or even cabinet positions, he should scan the list and determine if there are any Native Americans on the lists. If not, he should ask why not? The same can be said of the Rapid City government, the Pennington County government and the Rapid City School Board. Hey Governor; we are residents of your state!

The federal government is just as guilty for never appointing Native Americans to the frequent vacancies of federal judges. Twenty five years ago there were no Indians (maybe just one) serving in the House or Senate of South Dakota and this could be attributed to the blatant gerrymandering of the Indian reservations. The Voting Rights Act helped to alleviate this problem, mostly, and now there are five Native Americans serving in the House and Senate.

A recent report released by the Center for Labor Markets and Policy by Drexel University lauded the low unemployment rate in South Dakota. Leacey E. Brown, a South Dakota State University Extension Gerontology Specialist, said of the report, “While South Dakota has enjoyed a lower unemployment rate that other areas of the country, it is not equally distributed across all areas of the state or industries.”

Perhaps Ms. Brown should have examined the horrific unemployment rates on the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota. The Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations have unemployment rates in excess of 70 percent. Because there are no jobs available the Indian people living on these reservations have stopped looking for work. When this happens they are no longer counted among the ranks of the unemployed. The jobless rates on the Indian reservations are then discounted and ignored. But the unemployed who have stopped looking for jobs are still unemployed.

If those who are actually unemployed were included in the employment rates in South Dakota there would be a very different picture emerge. South Dakota’s lofty claims of having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States would take a big hit.

Gov. Daugaard recently announced plans to seek out a way to bring more able-bodied employees to this state. Perhaps he should start recruiting the 70 percent unemployed on the Indian reservations within the borders of his own state. Racism, inequality and a lack of justice should no longer be tolerated in any state that wishes to lay claim to being the best. Neither South Dakota nor Rapid City can ever lay claim to greatness until they admit and expunge racism.

(Tim Giago can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)

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