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A fire burns at Camp Mni Luzahan, a tipi encampment located on tribally-owned trust land in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo © Independent Media Project
Notes from Indian Country
Yes Virginia, there is racism in Rapid City
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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Many citizens of Rapid City including Mayor Steve Allender and his City Council, plus the Editorial Board of the local semi-daily newspaper, appear to be walking around town with a foggy brain when it comes to recognizing the fact that there is more than a semblance of racism in their fair city. Please allow me to point out some hard facts that just might serve as a premise for a racial education that might clear up some of the fog in their brains.

I sometimes hire non-Native journalists from other parts of the country who would like to move to Rapid City and work for a Native American newspaper. And so they arrive here and go out in the City working on local news stories. A couple of weeks into the job we hear them talking at the newspaper office and they are saying, “Gee, I didn’t realize there was so much racism in Rapid City.” Because they are white reporters, the citizens of this city believe it is alright for them to unload their racist comments about Native Americans on them.

A young lady from Sioux Falls moved to Rapid City to stay with her sister. Comments she received from her friends before heading west, “Watch out for the Indians.” Her sister is married to a Lakota man.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

I hired a young Lakota man from Pine Ridge as a reporter. He is happy for the job and goes looking for a house for his family. They find a two-bedroom house for rent and he takes his family there to check it out. The landlord says, “Gee, you are just a little late. I just rented the house.” We send a white reporter to check on the same house. The landlord is only too happy to show him and his family around the house that mysteriously has NOT been rented.

Native Americans shopping in some of the local department stores find themselves under constant surveillance while shopping. One Lakota lady even had the store security officer follow her in the parking lot all of the way to her car to see if she had stolen anything. This happens all of the time to Native Americans. Does this border on racism or do Indians see these things differently than whites?

An elderly Lakota man is shopping at the old Sears store. A security man thought he saw him put something in his pocket. He confronts the elder and practically wrestles him to the floor. He finds nothing except the man’s ID reveals that he is a minister in the Episcopalian Church.

Ivan Star Comes Out from Oglala brings his family to Rapid City to shop. They are hungry when they get here so they stop at a nice local restaurant to eat. They are seated and they wait and wait for service while several families that came into the restaurant after them are waited on while they are ignored. This also happens all of the time. Racism? You tell me.

None of the things I mentioned here are intangible. They are real and they happen all of the time. Native are even charged higher deposits when they find a house to rent and when they go to have the utilities turned on they are also charged a higher deposit that a white person. Every Native American moving to Rapid City knows these things. Why are the white people blind to it? Simply because it never happens to them?

There are countless examples of this sordid racism out there and I am sure my Lakota readers can give us many more, but me close by saying that it is out there and Rapid City officials and our local citizens need to admit to themselves that it exists.

As a further example, Mayor Allender often refers to the Native Americans moving to Rapid City as “Those people.” And then he vehemently denies it in the local semi-daily when confronted with it. He probably says it so often that it never occurs to him that he is saying it.

Yes Virginia, there is racism in Rapid City and until the Mayor, his City Council and the Editorial Board of the local semi-daily newspaper own up to it or even recognize that it is here, nothing will change.


Tim Giago, Publisher of Native Sun News Today, can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com. Tim was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He wrote this article several years ago and decided it was time to bring it forward again at this time

Note: Column content © Tim Giago

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