Participants in the Native American Day parade in Rapid City, South Dakota, on October 9, 2017. Photo by James Giago Davies

Native Sun News Today: Rapid City turns out for Native American Day parade

Everybody loves a parade!

By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY—Few people recognize that a remarkable thing happened in 1989, when the South Dakota legislature unanimously passed then Governor George S. Mickelson’s legislation to proclaim 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation” between the tribes of South Dakota and White folks who call South Dakota home, and to change Columbus Day to Native American Day. Every year since, the second Monday in October has been celebrated in South Dakota as Native American Day.


Wells Fargo Bank in Rapid City, referred to the holiday as Columbus Day in their notice they would be closed for business, sending a loud, tone deaf message there remains work to be done in getting people to acknowledge and accept their Native American neighbors as distinct people with a heritage and culture worthy of respect. Several school systems across the state also still refer to the holiday as Columbus Day, thereby indoctrinating impressionable students into indifference at best, and bigotry at worst.

The catalyst for the entire venture began with a conversation between then Indian Country Today Publisher Tim Giago and Mickelson, where Mickelson said that his father, also a former governor of South Dakota had told him the main issue facing any South Dakota governor was their relationship with Indian people.

Giago is mentioned nowhere in a Wikipedia article about the start of the South Dakota holiday, and this Wikipedia article is as comprehensive as any. The Wikipedia entry on Mickelson, mentions Native American Day nowhere in his legacy or lists of accomplishments as governor, when it is arguably the most powerful and inspirational contribution during his years as governor.

While Giago is not stingy is his praise of Mickelson, he does point out that the idea, and the initiative first came from the Lakota people: “Mickelson was pushed to do it by Native Americans. We came together and we pushed them to do this. My whole staff at Indian Country Today (contributed): Avis Little Eagle, Tom Little Wound, Amanda War Bonnet, they all got behind it.”

But that does not mean that Giago does not appreciate what Mickelson meant to the holiday, and the Year of Reconciliation. To make any of what happened a reality, Giago said what was needed was “somebody who has the power and the courage to implement it, and that was exactly what we had in Mickelson. He had the intuitive feelings to do something positive.”

Mickelson had another dream, deep in the heart of the Black Hills. He envisioned transforming the abandoned railroad beds into a hiking trail over 100 miles long, stretching from Deadwood to Edgemont, a beautifully crafted, user friendly hiking trail, equal to any on the planet. This, too, became reality.

Sadly, George S. Mickelson died in a tragic plane accident in 1993, taking away the one leading Republican who had connected in a genuine and heartfelt manner with the Indian people of South Dakota.

But his legacy survives in the hand shake and principled understanding he arrived at with Giago, and the subsequent celebrations that ensued, and that meeting of the minds and spirit serves as a template for all future positive interaction between Tribe and State, proving good and lasting things are always possible, no matter how dark and difficult the history, no matter how seemingly diametric the parties shaking hands.

Each year the Native American Day parade completes a circuit up Main Street and down St. Joe in Rapid City, and the sidewalks are lined with people from all over the region, Lakota and White.

When asked what the parade means to him, enrolled Oglala tribal member Seymour Young Dog said: “It’s a long time coming. Columbus Day really should be Native American Day, I mean, my gosh. For years they ignored us, but it makes us all proud, we are somebody and we are being recognized. It’s all good. I’m glad to be here.”

Young Dog reflected on the West River of his youth: “Years ago Rapid City was not a good place to come for American Indians. They were so prejudiced. But now they respect us more, they get us. It’s high time we started understanding each other.”

Oglala Tim Little stood on the corner of Main and Sixth Street with Old Glory waving in the breeze: “I hang it for my brothers who were in Vietnam. To let people know they served, that people should be aware. I always tell (White) people you should be (at the parade) because we were here before calendars, how long is that?”

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James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today