Native Sun News: Lakota activist pushes for hate crime statute

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Charmaine White Face in her home in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Richie Richards

Hate crime law needed in Rapid City ordinances
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– Racism is hard to prove and when it is proven in a court of law, there is no city ordinance in Rapid City which can effectively adjudicate or impose a harsher sentence for the convicted.

Currently, South Dakota codified law 22-19B-1 states:
Malicious intimidation or harassment--Felony. No person may maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass any person or specific group of persons because of that person’s or group of persons’ race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, or national origin:

(1) Cause physical injury to another person; or
(2) Deface any real or personal property of another person; or
(3) Damage or destroy any real or personal property of another person; or
(4) Threaten, by word or act, to do the acts prohibited if there is reasonable cause to believe that any of the acts prohibited in subdivision (1), (2), or (3) of this section will occur.
A violation of this section is a Class 6 felony.

Besides the same generic rhetoric found in the employee handbook policies in the City of Rapid City regarding racial discrimination, there is not a city-wide policy for charging individuals with hate crimes or sentence enhancements for using acts of racism during the committance of another crime.

The main, city-sponsored defense Native Americans have against racism in Rapid City is the Human Relations Commission (HRC).

Families attend a trial over a race-related incident involving children from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News

Although this simple complaint committee may be helpful in some situations against business owners and landlords mostly, the HRC has no jurisdiction over the offices of the City of Rapid City, HUD, Rapid City Police Department, and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

It is these organizations, many Rapid City tribal residents feel, where a majority of the racism occurs.

On their web page, the HRC posted a statement titled, “Race/Color Discrimination.” This is a piece written by a Dr. Dennis Edward, PHD.

This anti-discriminatory statement reads: “Sometimes, race/color can be a double edge sword to deal with. Race/color discrimination involves treating someone differently or unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features)… Race/color discrimination in providing services and benefits to persons of race or color is unlawful and can be considered harassment depending on the situation or circumstances.”

Although considerate in the language used, this civic-supported definition leaves out a majority of the Native American peoples living in Rapid City and is not specific to the needs of this community nor of this area.

The HRC is a mediation committee which works with both parties to mitigate mutual agreements for the parties to conclude the grievance filed, but has no grounds in a court of law.

A Lakota grandmother in Rapid City would like to see this change.

On Aug. 3, Charmaine White Face presented a draft ordinance on racism to Mayor Steve Allender and the City Council members during the General Council meeting during public comment.

“I’m giving you a draft ordinance... A seed of what needs to happen,” White Face told the city council.

Tribal members rally for justice as a non-Indian man goes on trial in connection with a race-related incident in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Chase Iron Eyes / Facebook

In her draft ordinance on racism in Rapid City, White Face proposed, “Any act of racism committed within the boundaries of the City of Rapid City, SD shall be considered a crime punishable by a fine of $500.00 and 30 days in jail. An act of racism shall include but not be limited to any action by a person of the dominant race in the City of Rapid City who demeans or discriminate by their words or actions against any person of another race. Conviction of this Rapid City ordinance will not inhibit further prosecution under the laws of South Dakota or the federal government.”

White Face (Oglala Lakota) is from the Wounded Knee District on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but was moved from the reservation by her parents to attend predominantly white schools. Her father told her, “We had to learn how to survive in the white world.”

White Face is a 1965 graduate of Rapid City High School and is a double major graduate from Black Hills State University (Biology and Physical Science) and has encountered racism in the city and across the state on many occasions.

White Face, like many, has been inspired to promote change and dialogue since the Jan. 24 incident at the Rush Hockey Game.

She strongly supports the conviction of Trace O’Connell of Phillip for his disorderly conduct charge, but feels more could have been done and “not just a slap on the wrist.”

White Face is aware Allender and the City Council have not taken her proposal seriously.

She says, “They’re all gonna be the same as far as racism goes. I just went in there (city council meeting) because this needs to be done,” referring to implementation of city laws against racism.

“I fought this battle 40 years ago. These younger people need to take over and continue the fight,” says White Face. She was instrumental in bringing race sensitization training to the Rapid City school district in the 1970’s.

Steve Allender won election as mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota, in June. He is shown here on the campaign trail while attending the funeral of Oglala Sioux tribal police officer William Murray Sr., on May 25, 2015. Photo from Facebook

At the Aug. 3 city council meeting, White Face discussed three issues; cultural issues, legal issues but most importantly, “I’m bringing to you the racism issue,” she said looking directly at the mayor.

In an interview with Native Sun News White Face said, “I wanted the mayor and city council to know what I was talking about. This is not a cultural issue. When I did the race sensitization training in ‘74/’75, it was close to time of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So there was lots of information out there to gain from.”

Although in her draft bill only proposes punishment for those of the “dominant race”, she explains that, “There is no such thing as reverse racism or reverse discrimination here. We, Native Americans, have no power. We are not of the dominant race. In order to exude dominance through racism, you need to be from the dominant race. That’s what this is about, power. That’s why I wrote the bill the way I did.”

White Face said, “If the city council doesn’t do anything, or act on this proposal, that’s racism. That’s the definition of institutionalized racism. The city council and Mayor Allender will be practicing institutionalized racism on Native Americans.”

White Face said the reason she included on racism in the bill draft proposal was, “I wanted the focus to be only on racism, and otherwise it gets diluted when we start including sexism, ageism, and all the other forms of discrimination.”

She claims Mayor Allender, “…wanted this to go to the HRC, but this is a law and should go to the legal committee for real consideration. This is an issue of racism, nothing else.”

When asked what she wanted from this proposal, White Face said, “I would hope more people, both Native and white, who want to see racism end in Rapid City, keep pushing the mayor and city council to make this a law. I’m only one person, but together we can bring change.”

“They don’t need cultural training, they need racism training. When they go to cultural sensitivity training, they are learning things irrelevant to the situation. What we are dealing with is institutionalized racism,” she said of civic leaders.

White Face courageously approached the leaders of Rapid City with a proposition of fairness in the justice system and within city limits in protection of Native American residents. At the very least, she hopes this begins a conversation which will lead to actual legislation in the city and state.

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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