This entire process of addressing the anti-Indian sentiment in Rapid City, South Dakota, has now far surpassed the limits of what can best be described by myself as "totally insane." Given the extent of the news coverage regarding racism in Rapid City lately, I can safely declare that every week a disgusting race-related incident or the aftermath of such an event occurs there.
To clarify for anyone who thinks that I am "slamming" Rapid City, I was born there in the early `50s. I have lived there on and off most of my life, and the bulk of my memories of life there are good. Not all of the white people in Rapid City are infected with the hideous disease of racial hatred, and quite a few whites there are very good friends of mine.
My family took up residence in that town right at the end of World War I, and I maintain almost daily contact with relatives there (as I now divide my time between the Great Lakes area and the Southwest, with an occasional foray into "Rapid"). But to reiterate per my previous op-eds here, I simply cannot state often enough that Rapid City is indeed the most despicable place in the U.S. in terms of anti-Indian racism. Having been to 48 of the 50 states, and to numerous Indian reservations and their border towns, I feel that I am more than qualified to make this particular judgment as to the racial climate in the so-called "Star of the West."
There is a long-standing tradition of widespread and extremely harsh discrimination towards Indian people throughout the city, especially in the areas of employment and housing. When I lived there, the only employers who would hire me were Indian-owned businesses. In 2006-2007, I noticed a very visible increase in race-based hatred that was directed at reducing the Indian population of Rapid City through a two-pronged campaign of heightened employment discrimination and a city-wide, systematic denial of fair access to housing by local property management companies and private landlords.
After my last op-ed (regarding the Indian chief wine bottle horror), I received several emails from people all across the country, to include Hawaii, asking if the federal government could do anything about the race problems in Rapid City. I explained that in December of 1999, a panel of representatives from the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Commission held a special hearing for the purpose of fielding input from Rapid City's Indian community concerning the racism there. When I went to check it out (at the Holiday Inn), there was standing room only with several hundred people in attendance. I was told later that the panel had no opportunity whatsoever to hear from everyone there as there were that many people with complaints.
This hearing was the last time the federal government was called upon to examine race relations in Rapid City. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is absolutely powerless to enforce, by the imposition of any laws, the "regulation" of positive race relations anyplace in the country. All that they can do is hold hearings, listen to and record complaints, and make "recommendations." To me it seemed as though things became a lot worse for Indian people there after that hearing.
I wish that another hearing would be held in Rapid City so that I could lodge my own complaints, to include the following incident that took place in February of 2007:
My then 69-year old cousin (a very distinguished, retired, full-blooded Lakota gentleman who held two advanced degrees, was fluent in eleven languages, including Lakota, and who devoted his entire life to the field of Indian education), and I ordered lunch at a fast food place on the city´s North Side. The place sells mainly tacos by a guy named John. We got our orders to go. My cousin walked out the door with his food while I picked up the tab.
A dirty, dilapidated, old sedan sped through the parking lot of the restaurant. There were about seven, non-Indian, college-age guys in the car who appeared to be pretty well liquored up.
My cousin, this highly educated, exceptionally cultured, and very spiritual Indian man, his lined, weathered face a virtual history of our people, our culture and our land--stood there silently as the carload of drunks screamed out loudly at him, "Mexican whore!"
Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whatever the frequency of racist incidents, what we see in the media is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. Someone has probably done a study showing that for every reported incident, a certain number (five? ten?) go unreported.
For Martin's most recent essays, see Pumpkinhead "Indian" Inspired Activism and Melvin Martin on Custer Toy.