A 41-year-old man was charged with
disorderly conduct for his behavior during a Rapid City Rush hockey
game in January, during which Lakota children from the American Horse
School on the Pine Ridge Reservation were alleged to have been doused
with beer and heckled.
Trace O’Connell was charged last month
in Seventh Circuit magistrate court in Rapid City. If convicted, he
faces up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Many Lakota people in
the area called the incident a hate crime, child abuse or assault and
sought charges of a greater magnitude.
The perceived lack of justice in this
case comes on the back of a long history of racial tension between
Rapid City’s Native American and white communities, including the
December 20, 2014 killing of Lakota resident Allen Locke by a white
police officer. The officer was not charged in case.
The deadly shooting, coming just one
day after Locke attended a protest against police brutality, ignited
suspicions of a racial motive. Captain Dan Rud of the RCPD sought to
lay those suspicions to rest. "This officer is white, the
suspect is Native American,” he said, “but it’s not a race deal.
This is based on criminal behavior and it had nothing to do with
race. Had the race of the Police Officer be Native American and the
suspect white the results would have been the same."
Rud’s comments were disregarded by
Lakota residents of Rapid City, however, for whom everything about
daily life in the divided city is racial.
The American Horse School Board is now
pursuing federal hate crime charges against those adults who
allegedly abused the 57 Lakota students in Rapid City. At a community
meeting in Allen, S.D. last month, American Horse School Board and
Oglala Sioux Tribal officials were present to address the issue.
Parent Angie Sam, mother of 13
year-old Robyn, one of the children who attended the now-infamous
hockey game, says her daughter learned a hard lesson that night.
“These kids were targets of a hate crime because of their skin
color, because they were from the rez and they were told to go back
to the rez. Why do we have to explain that they’re hated just because
of their skin color?”
Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker said of
the matter, "This incident is gut wrenching for me and its gut
wrenching particularly because it involves young children and so
there’s a scarring that takes place and apologizing simply isn’t
For Minnesota Natives, who have
established over the past four decades strong social and political
networks among themselves and with other communities, the depths of
racial tension in Rapid City can be difficult to fathom. The
Circle has compiled the following list to help make sense of the
news coming out of western South Dakota.
- Rapid City is Home to the Poorest
Urban Indians in the United States
Fifty-one percent of American Indians
in Rapid City live below the federal poverty line, which, in 2014 was
$23,850 for a family of four. By comparison, this is three times of
the poverty rate for Natives living in Anchorage, Alaska. Minneapolis
is the second poorest urban Indian population, with 48 percent of
Native residents living in poverty. While roughly 12-percent of the
population, Native residents own just 3-percent of businesses in
- Rapid City was founded on the
exploitation of the Black Hills
Rapid City is situated on the western
slope of the Black Hills, not far from where Americans first found
gold in 1874. Although Lakota control of the Black Hills was affirmed
by the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, white prospectors overran Lakota
territory searching for riches. Two of these prospectors, John
Brennan and Samuel Scott, with a small group of men, claimed the site
of the present Rapid City in February 1876, which was named for the
spring-fed creek that flows through it. They promoted their
new city as the "Gateway to the Black Hills."
Later that year the
U.S. Congress decided to open up the Black Hills to development and
break up the Great Sioux Nation. In 1877, it passed an act to make
7.7 million acres of the Black Hills available for sale to
homesteaders and private interests.
The Lakota people
remaining in the Black Hills were supposed hostiles who were hunted,
killed, and removed to reservations. Untold billions of dollars of
gold have been mined from the Black Hills. The Lakota have yet to see
a penny in compensation for extraction of precious metals from their
- It is Hazardous to be born Native in
According to Black Hills Knowledge
Network, an online resource on information about Butte, Custer, Fall
River, Lawrence, Meade, Pennington, and Shannon Counties, Native
children born in Rapid City today are 71 percent more likely than
their non-Native counterparts to die before their first birthday.
For every 1000 Indian babies born in
the city, 13 die within their first twelve months of life.
- South Dakota Natives Have Long
Complained of Racial Profiling in Rapid City
“I think one of the things Native
people in Minnesota don’t really understand about Rapid City is how
deeply divided it is racially. Most of the people there are either
white or Indian, which exacerbates a cowboys and Indians mentality.
Driving into Rapid City is like going into Detroit Lakes but ten
times worse. Indian people sense a certain separation, a certain kind
of anti-Indian vibe that you might see more subtly in Detroit Lakes,
but in Rapid it would be blatant, intense. I feel anxiety whenever I
enter Rapid City. Indian people prepare to go there. For example,
When I’m driving in from the Reservation I clean up my car a little
bit, and if there’s someone sleeping in the car, whether it’s my
wife or kids, I say ‘you better wake up, we’re coming into
Rapid.’ As an Indian driver you’re going to be automatically
profiled—the cops assume somebody’s passed out drunk in the car.
So you kind of find yourself taking certain precautions that you
don’t think about here in Minnesota. If I’m going into Detroit
Lakes I don’t wake anybody up, I don’t clean my car up.”
—Bill Means, Oglala Lakota, AIM
organizer and resident of Minneapolis and Rosebud, SD.
- Native American Voter Suppression is
Preventing Indian Representation in Rapid City
More than a dozen witnesses provided
testimony at a May 2014 Rapid City hearing of the National Commission
on Voting, from which developed a clear theme: Suppression and
intimidation of Native American voters remains a serious problem.
Jean Schrodel, a professor at Claremont Graduate University in
California, and an expert witness at the hearing told the Rapid City
Journal, “There has been more voting rights litigation involving
Native Americans in the state of South Dakota than any other state by
a considerable length.”
Evidence of Native American voter
suppression can be seen by looking at past elections, Schrodel said.
Only 12 Native Americans have ever been elected to the state
Legislature. Out of the 105 seats in the Legislature, only three are
currently held by Native Americans.
The way to measure if a race is
accurately represented politically is to take the percentage of
representatives from a minority group and divide it by the percentage
of the overall population of the minority group in the area. Ideally
that number should be one or close to it, Schrodel said. South
Dakota’s number today is 0.32 and has never been higher than 0.57.
- Anti-Indian Violence is Nothing New
to Rapid City
The shooting of Allen Locke and the
abuse of Lakota children at a hockey game are only the latest ugly
chapters in a long string of European on Lakota incidences dating
back to the mid-1870s. Indian activists point to the following cases
from the past 16 years as evidence the historic violence continues
In 1998 and 1999 alone, the dead
bodies of eight homeless men were found in Rapid Creek, Six of whom
were Native. Many suspected foul play, but the Rapid City Police
Department ruled the deaths accidental drowning after heavy drinking.
In all, some 25 individuals, a majority of them American Indian, have
lost their lives under suspicious circumstances along Rapid Creek
over the past two decades.
In 2009, a carload of 5 white youth
drove around Rapid City’s North Side neighborhood shooting Native
people on the street with a BB gun, throwing bags of urine on them,
and pelting them with rocks and eggs. Two of the white women involved
in the incident pleaded guilty to felony, racially motivated hate
crimes. Both women were put on a 5-year probation.
On May 2, 2010, Christopher J. Capps
(Lakota), 22, was shot dead by Pennington County Deputy David Olson
in Blackhawk, a small community outside of Rapid City. Capps had
allegedly committed assault and was gunned down for allegedly pulling
a knife on Olson. Capps was shot five times, including once in the
back. The shooting was, according S.D. Attorney General Marty
Jackley, "justified." Capps’ parents filed a lawsuit in
2012 against Olson and the county, claiming their son was unarmed
during the incident.
On August 2, 2011, Daniel Tiger
(Lakota), 22, was approached by Rapid City Police Officer Tim Doyle
for a “routine stop.” Tiger, and four other Native individuals,
according to S.D. Office of the Attorney General’s report “appeared
to be under the influence of alcohol.” Officers Nick Armstrong and
Ryan McCandless soon arrived on the scene. Police claimed Tiger
revealed a .357 caliber revolver and opened fire on the officers
killing Armstrong and McCandless and wounding Doyle. Tiger was
fatally wounded in an exchange of gunfire. The Office of the Attorney
General ruled the attack as “unprovoked” and that Tiger’s death
was suicide by cop. The slain officers were memorialized by the city
as heroes, while it was revealed in the media that Tiger had a
lengthy and violent criminal record.
In an official investigation by South
Dakota State’s Attorney, a witness’ interview alleges Tiger
disclosed the following: “He wanted to die because he had no job,
no home, and nothing to live for.”
- Rapid City Schools are Failing
Nearly 11 percent of Native American
students in the Rapid City Area Schools district dropped out of
school in 2012 (the last year such statistics were published),
compared to 2.4 percent of their non-Indian peers.
Roger Campbell, director of the South
Dakota Office of Indian Education told the Rapid City Journal that
the biggest challenge for Native students is poverty and racism.
"A child without basic needs such
as food and housing faces greater challenges in general than a more
economically privileged student. How do they get to school? How do
they concentrate if they are hungry? Do they have a home to go to at
night? Social pressures also come into play. If a student faces
racism or feels disconnected at school and unsupported by their
community…will they see the relevance of school?"
- Native People Serve Far More Jail
Time than non-Indians in Rapid City
In Rapid City, Native inmates make up
more than 42 percent of the inmate population of the Pennington
County Jail and serve 37 percent of all the time served by the total
inmate population. This overrepresentation stands in contrast to the
fact that Natives make up just 12 percent of the city’s total
Moreover, South Dakota’s prison
incarceration rates are significantly higher than the neighboring
states such as Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and
Wyoming. With an overall decrease in crime down nine percent over the
last two decades, South Dakota’s imprisonment rate is ten times
higher than the national average, growing over 500 percent from 1977
to 2012. Of the 3,600 inmates, Native inmates in the state number
close 1,110, over thirty percent of the total population, while only
constituting about nine percent of the state’s population.
- 1972 Rapid Creek
Flood a Cooperative Exception
“Growing up in and around Rapid
City, and being with AIM throughout the years, I know that Natives
and non-Natives in Rapid City live in two totally different worlds.
It is surprising when South Dakota Natives first come to Minnesota.
Here in the Twin Cities, the community that has a tradition of people
of all races working together, whether it’s in the neighborhoods or
whether in politics. This kind of cooperation is almost unheard of in
Rapid City,” says Bill Means.
Means does recall one fleeting
On June 9–10, 1972,
extremely heavy rains over the eastern Black Hills of South Dakota
produced record floods on Rapid Creek and other streams in the area.
Nearly 15 inches of rain fell in about 6 hours. According to the Red
Cross, the resulting floods left 238 people dead and 3,057 people
injured. In addition to the human tragedy, total damage was estimated
to include 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles destroyed. The 1972
flooding has an estimated recurrence interval of 500 years, which
means that a flood of this magnitude will occur on average once every
“Today, the only time Indians and
non-Indians seem to communicate is during a crisis. I remember back
in the day when there was the giant flood, and AIM and the local
residents came together to rescue people, to repair all the damage,
and clean up the city. Immediately after that moment of opportunity,
however, the communities separated again,” Means says.