Tim Giago: New generation changes minds about race in Rapid City
Have you ever witnessed a scene or overheard a conversation wherein an irony became a replica of itself; irony imitating irony?

I believe that’s what happened to me last week as I stood at the front entrance to the Prairie Edge Trading Companies and Galleries. I had just chaired an important meeting of the 2010 Unity Committee at the Prairie Edge office and our meeting with the director of the Central State’s Fair, Ron Jeffries, and a wonderful organizer of Indian events, Dixie Holy Eagle, had been a treat for every committee member because the Fair was going to proclaim Saturday, August 28 as A Day of Unity at the Fair.

With input from the Committee, Jeffries and Holy Eagle set down some plans for Unity Day. We discussed the Native fashion show, the exhibit booths, the dancers, singers and drum groups, and Native storytellers. We talked about the Grand Entry at Saturday night’s rodeo to be led by Native riders carrying the flags of all nine Indian Nations in South Dakota.

So what about the irony? As I stood on the steps contemplating all of the things we had discussed about unity between Indians and whites, two white ladies walked past and I surmised that one was a local woman and the other her visitor guest from another state. The lady from out-of-state glanced at the window exhibits of the Prairie Edge and said, “What is this?” Her Rapid City host grabbed her by the arm, nearly dragging her away from the front door and said, “Oh, never mind; that’s just the Indian store.”

I realized in a flash that there are some folks in Rapid City that will never understand or ever utter the word “unity.”

But there are also many citizens of this beautiful city who will stand up and fight for unity between all races. Many of you have never heard of Dan Tribby, Linda Rabe, Michelle Lintz, or Deb Hadcock, but they are white South Dakotans who are tired of the racial disharmony in their state and city and they are willing to go out on the limb to change it.

Rabe brings the power of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce to the table and Lintz the importance of the Rapid City Convention and Visitor’s Center into play. Tribby has long been a strong advocate of Native arts and crafts and has made many efforts to include Native American business owners into the activities sponsored by the Prairie Edge and Hadcock is a member of the Rapid City Council. The city’s mayor, Alan Hanks, and the city school board, both signed Proclamations of Unity.

Twenty years ago the now deceased Governor of South Dakota, George Mickelson, made an effort to proclaim a Year of Reconciliation. It never got off of the ground because in those days we could never get the support of the South Dakota chambers of commerce or the full support of the Rapid City business community.

So what has changed? Just like the rest of America there is a new generation taking over. Rapid City businessman, Jim Scull, a member of the Unity Committee, said at the Prairie Edge meeting, “At the last business meeting I chaired for the Chamber of Commerce I saw so many more young business people. It looks like they are beginning to replace the old guard and they are bringing fresh ideas and open minds to the Rapid City business community.”

As a Rapid City business owner I can truly attest to that. Business owners who wouldn’t advertise with my newspaper 20 years ago are finally beginning to realize that there is a vast and lucrative market right here in South Dakota: the Indian reservations. Tribal people, governments and programs spend millions of dollars annually in Rapid City. The Indian hospital in Rapid City alone has a payroll of $16 million that is spent right here in the city. The hospital contracts many of its services to the Rapid City Regional Hospital and purchases many of its office supplies, food, produce and contract repair services to local businesses as do the tribes and the Indian schools.

When Republican Governor Mike Rounds met with our committee at the State Capitol in September of 2009 and listened to our plea for a Year of Unity, he was eager to make it happen and on February 19, 2010 he proclaimed 2010 as the Year of Unity.

There are many Native Americans on our committee including Roger Campbell, the state liaison between the state government and the Indian Nations. Since they carry the burden of racism, Native Americans have always looked for the way to implement racial harmony, but have had a hard time finding willing partners in the white community to make it a reality.

We cannot the change the past, but we can certainly do something about the future.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. His book Children Left Behind was awarded the Bronze Medal by Independent Book Publishers. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com.

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