Tim Giago: Some positive change in race relations in South Dakota
It was a scorching hot day at this year’s Central States Fair until dark clouds drifted slowly over the Black Hills and brought the temperatures down.

It was a special day for Native Americans because a man named Ron Jeffries and his assistant, Dixie Holy Eagle, took the challenge of the Year of Unity Committee and named Saturday, August 28, as A Day of Unity at the Fair.

All day tourists and locals visited the booths set up at the Fair by Native entrepreneurs and then sat in the shade of the mighty maple trees to watch the magnificent fashion show of Native designs by Native clothing designers.

Phillip White Man and his horse Sioux Boy drew a good crowd although his exhibit was stashed way back of the horse trailer sales arena. “We’ll do better next year,” said one of the Fair Board members, and added, “And by God, we will have another Unity Day next year.”

I think it is almost unanimous that the success of the Day of Unity has opened the eyes of many South Dakotans, particularly Rapid Citians and to see this Year of Unity conclude at the end of 2010 would border on the preposterous. Every Native American I ran into at the Fair, from Collette Keith, who did a magnificent job as MC of the fashion show, to Randy Ross, Ardis McRae, John Blacksmith, Lonnie Jeffries, Rita White Butterfly, Andy Torres, and Bryan Brewer, all felt that something really good was in the air. They felt it and I felt it.

And the beat will go on. The Unity Committee will meet with the Black Hills Powwow Board on September 15 to work with them in order to dedicate the Powwow to the Year of Unity. We already met with Bryan Brewer and his Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament Board, and this year’s LNI, the biggest Indian basketball tournament in the Nation, will be dedicated to the Year of Unity.

At the VIP tent where food was served to ranchers and special guests I overheard a young non-Indian ranch hand say, “My darned horse bit me today.” My thoughts immediately went to Phillip White Man and the exhibition he had held that day with his horse Sioux Boy as he taught the audience the lessons handed down to him by his Northern Cheyenne ancestors. Using his hands only he talked about how young boys and girls have an unbridled energy that the horse can sense and they needed to know the points and the sides of the horse that react to that energy and if they did not know these keen points, the horse would oftentimes bite them. This young cowboy should have been at the lesson.

The culmination of the day came at the opening of that evening’s Range Days Rodeo. Riders from the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux Tribes rode into the arena with their tribal flags while Phillip White Man carried the POW flag. They turned their horses and stood facing the grand stand filled with thousands of people, white and red. Jenny Ghost Bear, Oglala Lakota, sang the Lakota Flag Song as the audience stood in respectful pose. The song was followed by the National Anthem of the United States as a young lady carrying the American Flag entered the arena. The rodeo announcer said, “At this rodeo it doesn’t matter what race, religion or color you are because we are all here in the spirit of unity.”

Gov. Mike Rounds issued an Executive Proclamation congratulating the Central State’s Fair Board for naming August 28 as a Day of Unity. I had the honor of standing front and center in the arena as the Proclamation was read and it was handed to me to present to our Committee.

South Dakota Public Radio, KEVN-TV and the Rapid City Journal have all stepped forward recognizing that something had to be done and they have been reporting on our efforts. It’s extremely important that the media get behind us.

So far this Year of Unity has been an all West River affair. The Unity Committee has been unable to draw any interest from the folks in East River although Native Americans living in Sioux Falls and other East River communities still experience the racial prejudice we are trying to alleviate in West River.

In West River, Natives and whites, are working together to address and end the shameful race problems in South Dakota. Talk is cheap and I urge those that were critical of our efforts from day one to step up to join and share our small successes, especially those folks in Sioux Falls that continue to bury their heads in the sand. This needs to be a state-wide effort.

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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