Lakota Country Times: Lakota Nation Invitational stays in Rapid

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times editor. For more news, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times. All content © Lakota Country Times.

A game from the 2013 Lakota Nation Invitational. Photo from Facebook

LNI to stay in Rapid: Community responds with mixed reactions
By Brandon Ecoffey
Times editor

RAPID CITY—Last week the Lakota Nation Invitational board of directors voted unanimously to keep the four day cultural extravaganza in Rapid City.

The decision to keep the tournament in the city has been met with mixed reactions from community members some of whom believe that the agreement to keep the event in Rapid City should have been accompanied by guarantees from city officials and business owners to do their part to improve race relations.

“It was kind of like signing the treaty and walking away. There should have been guarantees made by the city that would improve race relations,” said Francis White Bird, 74, of Kyle.

White Bird, who was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs under Gov. George Mickelson and who holds a masters degree from Harvard University, feels that the business community should be held accountable by the city for its practices during the week of LNI.

“Raising the hotel rates by $30 should not continue to happen and businesses around the city must be more accommodating to our people who come to Rapid and spend their money," White Bird said.

Rapid City has had problems with race for decades and recent headline grabbing incidents have fueled mounting frustration from Native people about how they are treated in the city. In an interview with, Chase Iron Eyes, co-founder of highlighted some of the racial inequalities in Rapid City.

“Native American people in Rapid City make up about 15% of the population, and they comprise 54% of the inmate population. There's been about 25 or 30 found dead, all Native Americans, in a river that runs right through Rapid City called Rapids Creek, and we don't know how they're dying. Most of them are homeless and die of exposure. It's a dire human rights situation. Native American children comprise about 12% of the total children population in South Dakota and they comprise about 50% of the children that are taken from their parents and placed in foster institutions. They're being placed in non-Indian homes and institutions, which is a violation of federal law, the Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Iron Eyes.

During holidays and other events in the city local businesses have often had corresponding sales, however, no such concessions have been made by the city during the Lakota Nation Invitational. In one example of the business community’s failure to acknowledge the spending power of the Native community a vast majority of retail outlets in the city still have Columbus Day sales despite South Dakota having renamed the holiday Native American Day.

The debate surrounding moving LNI out of the city came about after multiple racially driven incidents and one in particular where a Phillip man has been accused of spilling beer on 57 Lakota children from American Horse School. The children traveled to the city to attend a minor league hockey game as part of an incentive for their stellar academic performance but according to a chaperone the kids were doused with beer and told to “go back to the reservation.”

As the Native community called for harsh prosecution of the accused, city officials opted to charge Trace O’Connell of Phillip with disorderly conduct. The handling of the case by the city has led to many Native people feeling that the distribution of justice in Rapid City is unfairly doled out depending on the race of the accused.

As community members took to the streets in protest against racism and the Oglala Sioux Tribe boycotted the city while asking the LNI board of directors to move the event to a different location, community members weighed in and many felt that the only way to bring forth institutional and societal changes in the city was if the event was moved. Each year Native people spend approximately $6 million dollars in Rapid City and the week is one of the most profitable of the year for businesses in the area. A move out of the city would bring with it a major blow to the city’s economy.

“My opinion is that it shouldn't have stayed in Rapid City. The equal treatment of Natives has been neglected, especially for those living within the city. The lack of justice and action from the RCPD, Mayor's Office and affiliated organizations is unacceptable. If certain business owners, who do address race relations, want to profit from the Lakota Nation Invitational, and are willing to work with Natives, pressure should come from them to address the racial inequality just as much as it has come from the Natives. Otherwise, the event and profits should go where it is appreciated. The human/civil rights inequality has been too long standing in Rapid City,” said Blue Dawn Little, a resident of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and a member of the 2014 Bush Foundation Native Nation’s Rebuilders program.

Some in the business community have begun taking steps to improve relations in the city as threats of a move became more prevalent. After the announcement that LNI would be staying in Rapid City, Mayor Sam Kooiker, said that the tournament, “not only promotes and showcases the talents of the young performers in a variety of athletic, artistic and cultural events; it also serves as an event that promotes cultural understanding, awareness and education for our city and all who participate in the week's activities."

Others have expressed that the tournament itself could move race relations forward by educating non-Native about Lakota culture. This group includes former Oglala Sioux tribal President Bryan Brewer who has served as the tournament’s director numerous times.

“I think that we shouldn’t run from these problems, especially those having to do with race. The Lakota Nation Invitational is a powerful educational tool that helps to build relationships between kids of all races and it is an opportunity for us to showcase our young people,” said Brewer.

The sentiments expressed by Brewer were echoed by Shannon County Commissioner, Anna Diaz, of Oglala, who took the same approach to the question as Brewer.

“I think it's a good thing to keep it in rapid because running from racial problems won't solve anything and I think schools wouldn't be able to afford to attend if it moves to another city, I think by it staying it'll be a good opportunity for the community to grow,” said Diaz.

Calls for calm have been met with harsh criticism from Native people who still feel that the city has not done enough to improve race relations and to protect the community from further harm brought about by racism.

“I understand from a practical standpoint why LNI cannot or should not be moved, as it is more feasible for a lot of teams and community members to attend. At the same time, however, it’s a little frustrating because despite the fact that that natives support this town and its economy, there is no real effort on Rapid City’s part to truly engage in cross cultural dialogue and learn more about us. A lot of ignorance and white privilege exists within the city, which perpetuates a lot of the same systems that keep our populations marginalized. The fact remains that at the end of the day, Rapid City makes it clear they will happily and readily accept our money but will do nothing to promote justice or equity. LNI should stay in Rapid only if we receive a percentage of our contributions,” said Kiva Sam, an educator, who works for Teach for America and who is also a graduate of Dartmouth College.

Outside of calls for justice for Native people there are community members who have always seen the tournament as being removed from the harsh political and racial realities that exist in western South Dakota.

​Lyle Jacobs, a student a Duke University and former participant in the event feels that moving the event would deny Native students a rare life experience.

“I think that if we truly wanted to make a statement on the incident that occurred at the civic center, moving LNI out of Rapid City would have been the right choice. However, reservation kids dream of hooping on the civic center floor - LNI is as big as it gets for most of us. Kids want to ball out in that big arena,” said Jacobs.

There has been no indication as to what impact a massive renovation project designed to bring the facility which houses LNI up to par with the American’s with Disabilities act will have on the tournament.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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