Robert Cook: Racism remains a problem for Native students

Lakota 57, a cartoon by Ricardo Cate. Image from Without Reservations / Facebook

Robert Cook, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, discusses the racial attack on Indian children in Rapid City, South Dakota, that resulted in a minor charge against one person:
On Jan. 24 of this year, 57 elementary and middle school students from American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota traveled more than 100 miles to Rapid City, S.D., to watch a minor-league hockey game at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. You can imagine the excitement these students felt when they learned they would attend the big game in celebration of their academic success and outstanding school attendance. Though only a sports match, this night would signify months of hard work and commitment in the classroom and motivate each student to continue to reach his or her full potential.

The excitement was short-lived, as a result of an incident that subsequently received a fair amount of local and national press. Toward the end of the game, the students and their chaperones, who included teachers and parents, were verbally harassed and bullied—their ears fouled with racial slurs and their clothes wet with beer thrown on them from the VIP box above. With no security in sight and fearing for their safety, the school chaperones gathered the students and left the arena. Within an instant, their dream day became a nightmare. The badge of recognition they cherished was tarnished by negativity. The experience perpetuated their mistrust and destroyed the pride and excitement they had felt just a few hours earlier.

I was appalled, hurt, and angry as I saw the personal accounts of the field trip come through on social media that evening. To confirm the details of the incident, I immediately reached out to the school, tribal community, and families as both a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the director of Teach For America's Native Alliance Initiative.

Native people aren't alone in being victims of racial slurs. Many people suffer the perils of racism and bigotry. But when an incident or invective directly targets kids, it has deeper implications. It can impact their development, the way they view the world, and their own understanding of diversity and equality.

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Robert Cook: Racism: An Open Wound for Native Students (Education Week 5/6)

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