The offending headline in the January 31, 2015, issue of The Rapid City Journal. Photo from Chase Iron Eyes / Last Real Indians / Facebook
Local daily newspaper apologizes
NAJA challenges Journal’s racist headline
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer RAPID CITY –– Since the founding of Hay Camp in 1876, race relations between Native Americans and whites in the Rapid City area have been tainted and marred by instances like those which took place at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center these past few weeks. This story of racism has been told over the generations many times; the difference today is tribal members now have social media, Native American owned newspapers, activist groups with highly educated members, and cell phones with cameras. The children, women and elderly of Native American communities are among the most honored and sacred of all tribal members. They are often revered in a way to which non-natives view saints or angels. It was at a Rapid City Rush Hockey game on the evening of Jan. 24 which began the latest round of reactionary movement against racism in Rapid City when 57 students from American Horse School (AHS) were harassed and assaulted during the game. The students were told to go “back to the rez” and had beer thrown on them from persons in the corporate suite of Eagle Sales of the Black Hills above. Those responsible have been identified, are currently under investigation and have yet to be held accountable for their actions with charges pending. Following the incident regarding the aggressive action against the children from the Pine Ridge Reservation, in the early morning hours of Jan. 25 Justin Poor Bear who was a chaperone at the Rush game, posted on social media the situation from his perspective. In explaining to parents and family members of the AHS students, Poor Bear wrote, “...there were 15 or more inside of the suite most of them men, they were getting drunk and around the 3rd Quarter they were talking crap to our kids and throwing down beer on some of them including our staff and students.” This was posted just after 1:00 a.m. and by noon had gone viral; with AHS parents and tribal members from around the country angry over the abuse suffered by the AHS students and chaperones. Over two weeks later, all involved are still waiting for names to be released and charges filed. Joe Ferras, General Manager and Head Coach of the Rush, issued a statement Jan. 27 on their Facebook page to “Loyal Rush Fan’s and Rush Community” recognizing the incident and stating they were working with AHS and Eagle Sales to “rectify the unfortunate events that took place and to assure that this does not occur in the future.” This was not an apology to the children or adults assaulted; only an announcement of action. The next day, Wednesday Jan. 28, a nearly three hour closed-door meeting was held between the City of Rapid City, Rapid City Police Department, AHS staff and families, tribal members from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and others to discuss the incident and the pursuant action agreed by all parties. Angry parents could be heard outside the closed doors of the meeting expressing concerns while the City of Rapid City was busy making promises of pacification to resolve generations of racial prejudice. Immediately after the closed-door meeting, area media were invited to a press conference to which Mayor Sam Kooiker, RCPD Chief Karl Jegeris, AHS spokesperson Angie Sam, Pine Ridge District Council Representative Richard Greenwald spoke in limited length regarding information from the meeting. Spokesperson Sam in fighting back tears stated, “As a mother, I had a real proud moment, cause my daughter said, ‘I’m OK mom. I don’t care what those old drunk white guys say. I know who I am. And I’m gonna go wherever I want… This is my land.’” Sam’s daughter Robyn is 13. Two days later on Jan. 30, three young Native American women attended the Xtreme Bulls Tour at the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo. Kristen Hunter, “D” Young Man II, and Danielle Hudspeth had good seats and were enjoying the event when, once again from above, beer was thrown on them intentionally. The incident happened to be caught on camera. The next day, Hunter posted the beer splashing incident on her Facebook page- once again the footage went viral on that evening of Jan. 31. The women did not witness who committed this act. A non-native elderly couple and two Native American elders also had beer on them after. On Jan. 31, the Rapid City Journal ran a front page article with the headline, “Did Native students stand for National Anthem?” This article seemingly blamed the Rush game assault on the AHS students for not standing during the singing of the National Anthem. Many of the AHS students have dual citizenship and are taught to pay respects to the flag songs of their sovereign nation and do so with pride. Poor Bear says the students did stand while unidentified witnesses claim AHS students did not. Regardless, there is no excuse for violating children abusively. Many witnesses have stated the AHS students were among the best-behaved group they’ve encountered. Originally established in 1984, the Native American Journalists Association (formerly Native American Press Association) based in Norman, OK is an organization whose mission is to improve and monitor media communications within tribal entities and from Native Americans to the general public.
The original board members of NAJA: Left to right, Loren Tapahe (Navajo) Vice President, Mary Polanco, (Jicarilla Apache) Secretary, Anita Austin, (Ojibwe), Treasurer, Tim Giago (Oglala Lakota), President.
On Feb. 1, NAJA emailed both Rapid City Journal (RCJ) Executive Editor Bart Pfankuch and Lee Enterprises Vice President of News Joyce Dehli (Lee Enterprises owns RCJ) regarding the “deep disappointment” of the headline and story printed by RCJ. Rebecca Landsberry posted on NAJA’s website, “The headline fell short of the standards of responsible journalism, as it indirectly suggested that elementary and middle school students could have been responsible for prompting the harassment.” In an editorial titled, “Ours: Journal erred on anthem headline” Pfankuch writes, “A justifiable anger has resulted from a headline that appeared in the Rapid City Journal on Saturday, Jan. 31. It is now abundantly clear that the headline about the National Anthem is troubling to this community and our readers.” According to Pfankuch, “some” of RCJ’s readers felt the irresponsible headline justified the actions of those responsible for making the choice to abuse children and harass Native Americans. Rapid City Journal made the mistake of condoning the racism and retracted once public outcry over disgraceful media practices went viral. The RCPD opened a probe on Feb. 2 into the second beer dousing incident at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center during the Xtreme Bulls event. Investigators have called one of the three women involved at the submission of this article for print on week later. In an article in Lakota Voice titled, “The Rosebud Sioux Tribe Stands in Unity against Racist Actions in Rapid City”, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council discussed the racial incident and identified it as a hate crime and RST “supports the American Horse School Board efforts with both State and Federal authorities.” On Feb. 3, an op-ed was submitted to NSN by Robert Cook, Board Member of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) with the support of Melvin Monette, NIEA President and all 12 members of NIEA’s Board of Directors. The NIEA, established in 1970, is an organization dedicated to the purpose of advocating, planning, and promoting the unique cultural and educational rights of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Cook writes, “On behalf of the NIEA board and membership we condemn the recent action of the perpetrators of this racist and bullying act and together we stand in solidarity with the public and tribal Nations to offer love, support and healing for the students, parents, family, staff and community from American Horse School who are deeply impacted by this terrible event.” The United Tribes Technical College hosted an event with local and regional leaders including, Bill Means of the American Indian Movement, Collins Clifford of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, and former OST President Bryan Brewer Sr. The discussion included tactics needed to improve race relations in the modern setting. The group plans to meet Feb. 25 to continue dialogue. On Feb. 5, Native Sun News reached out to Richard Greenwald (OST Council Representative) to get an update on the investigation, he confirms investigators have been conducting interviews with chaperones and students on the reservation. When asked about the investigation Greenwald said, “Well you know, we’re trying to be patient, allowing the judicial process, but we are also skeptical of their work. We want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are reluctantly optimistic.” He further discussed the possible boycotting of the Lakota Nation Invitational tournament and the Black Hills Powwow (HeSapa). These events have a huge impact on the economics of Rapid City and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Greenwald concludes, “We want to be taken seriously.” The persons responsible for the hate crimes in the Civic Center have chosen children, women and elders as their victims. The culpability of these cowardly acts will not go unresolved as the families and whole of Indian Country await action from authorities. (Contact Richie Richards at email@example.com) Copyright permission Native Sun News
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