A march in support of the Lakota 57, a group of 57 Native students who were victimized during a hockey game in Rapid City, South Dakota, in January 2015. Photo: The Lakota 57

Tim Giago: Apology owed for racist treatment of Native youth

Notes from Indian Country
No apparent Rush to Reconciliation
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

The lead sentence in the local daily newspaper this week goes, “The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center has agreed to pay the Rapid City Rush $73,500 to offset the hockey team’s financial losses in October.

According to principal owner Scott Mueller the Rush’s shaky financial footing comes amidst a sagging attendance brought on by the team’s poor performance and the loss of novelty of the team.

Aside from the obvious concern of Rapid City residents about the City contributing to the finances of a professional hockey team it is surprising that those people signing off on the financial support for the hockey team do not have the slightest understanding of one of the major reasons this is happening.

“Sagging attendance” means loss of revenue. The next question should be why is there a sagging attendance? Apparently Mayor Steve Allender, the City Council or the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center management do not have a clue.

Two years ago an incident happened during a Rush game that almost provoked a boycott of the City of Rapid City and it would appear that the citizens of this fine city laughed it off.

It so happened that a man from Phillip, South Dakota named Trace O’Connell was at a Rush game with a group of his friends. They were all drinking beer and having a heck of a time. He was later identified as the man who threw beer on a group of students from the American Horse School at Allen while shouting, “Go back to the reservation.”

The offending headline in the January 31, 2015, issue of The Rapid City Journal. The newspaper later said it "erred" with the headline asking if Native students were responsible for being victimized at a hockey game that month. Photo: Last Real Indians

The local daily newspaper did a story the next day with a headline that read, “Did the kids stand for the National Anthem?” Say what? There was never a question that the children from American Horse stood at attention for the National Anthem, and what that had to do with beer being poured on them is nonsensical.

This terrible incident angered the Lakota people so badly that this anger has never registered with the owners of the Rush or with the City Council of Rapid City. It angered them so badly that nearly all of them ceased coming to the Rush hockey games. “Sagging attendance?” Come on Rapid City wake up. The attendance sagged because the good people of the Indian reservations were completely turned off by the rude and racist treatment their children had received at a Rush hockey game. There has never been a public apology issued to them by either the Rush owners or the City.

The Head Chaperone for the AHS students, Consuelo Means, said all of the students stood during the National Anthem. It was “Pink in the Rink Night” to honor the victims of cancer. Means said, “I encouraged the students to wear pink because it was cancer awareness night.”

The Native American Journalists Association chastised the local daily newspaper for its racist headline that dared question whether the children had stood for the National Anthem.

Robert Cook, a board member of the NIEA, wrote in an op-ed piece for Native Sun News Today, “On behalf of the NIEA board and membership we condemn the recent action of the perpetrators of this racist and bullying act and together we stand in solidarity with the public community from American Horse School who are deeply impacted by this terrible event.”

If Mayor Steve Allender, his City Council, and the management of the Rush Hockey Team want to know the real reason their attendance is sagging and they are losing money they need look no further than the racist incident that cost them nearly all of their Native American attendance. Keep in mind that there were two Canadian Indians playing on the Rush team and they had the full support of the Indian community, until this terrible act.

Although two years have passed the racist incident is still fresh in the minds of most Native Americans and even more so since Trace O’Connell, the perpetrator, was accused, tried and acquitted for the commission of this racist and horrendous act against innocent Lakota children.

The mayor and the Rush owners must offer a public apology to the students of American Horse School and to the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in the name of reconciliation.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Join the Conversation