Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

In this guest column for the Madville Times, actual live Native American Tasiyagnunpa Livermont weighs in on Watertown's cultural misappropriation, football, war, and racism:

Nobody likes to be told they are wrong.

Let alone racist.

I get it.

You feel like you are a pretty good person, and then suddenly, into your world of your own worries and personal concerns, some ticked off minority tells you that your world is not their world.

Your coziness, your personal issues and your own worries, yes, even those charming little things that you personally find comfort in, like football, don’t matter to them.

How dare someone criticize a group of children dressed like Indians during homecoming?

Or the name of a football team?

What is more laid-back and innocent that a game?


I know, I know, Indians just need to get over it.

The Indians lost, America won, and just move on, people.

For God sakes, we bombed Japan and they’re doing just fine.

What the hell does football have to do with war, anyways?

Turns out, a whole lot.

American Football is the vehicle by which historically we have trained our military during war and kept youth fit for the military.

In fact, the military can be thanked for democratizing football, because in the 1800s only America’s elite Easterners in fancy colleges played or cared about football.

Back then, football was violent and bloody, and played by America’s most wealthy.

Last week, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a segment that he had to give a lengthy forward to, because as one website put it, “Washington football fans freak out when confronted by actual live Native Americans.”

My fellow Americans, and South Dakotans, let me tell you something utterly shocking.

American Indians are not dead.

Oh, we were butchered, slaughtered, murdered and fought against, to be sure. We have suffered disease and war, both in our own lands and during major wars of American history on these shores and over seas.

We have been starved, marched, imprisoned and stolen from.

And yes, there are tribes that no longer exist in our country, utterly succumbing to Manifest Destiny.

Tribal differences aside, the homogenizing affect of hundreds of years of genocide and war has given us a solid voice.

And that voice says, stop glorifying our deaths.

Stop lying to yourselves that you are honoring a culture by calling it a slur associated with blood money.

In a country that prides itself on leading the overthrow of a government that murdered, imprisoned and yes, traded the body parts of a minority, America—you can be better than this.

The settler colonial worldview gave birth to a myriad of false stories, mythologies and justifications for how America treats those indigenous to this land.

Among these is a cultural agnosia that perpetuates us as things of legend and story.

In this agnosia, American Indians become nothing more than characterizations in stories like the Indian Maiden in Peter Pan.

Or Slurskins in the NFL.

And when presented with "actual live Native Americans," American football fans don’t know how to react.

The American Indians didn’t all die, as their history books taught them.

Even in South Dakota, in a state (and territory) named for an American Indian tribe, the Dakota, children of pioneers protected by forts against Indians, still think it is cute to re-enact their own false mythologies of Indians and dress up in faux-buckskin.

What would those children do if some South Dakota tribal students walked up to them and said, "Stop. We aren’t fantasy or figments of your historical imagination. You may not imagine us away into colonial imagery of pilgrims and Tonto and autumn displays of corn and leaves."

Would those children react the same way as fans of the Washington Slurskins did when "actual live Native Americans" went to FedEX stadium and were threatened to be "cut."

I don’t know.

I want to believe better than that of my fellow South Dakotans. I want to believe better of the children my son could play football against at State.

Cultural criticism can hit awful close to home. It can feel personal, because we are all products of our cultures, and it is against what we know about ourselves.

So is racism.

Yes, even the sort that puts on a jersey and takes to the battlefields of American football.

Go team!

Tasiyagnunpa Livermont is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She consults with small businesses on marketing and blogs at Sustainable Dakota.


And another thing: Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey's poopy-sex tirade veers around the corner to attack the South Dakota High School Activities Association for establishing policies on transgender student participation:

The South Dakota High School Activities Association is presently considering changing the rules to accommodate transgender kids. Forty-one percent of those who struggle with Gender Dysphoria attempt suicide, that's twenty-five times the rate of the general population– certainly tragic and urgent but not a word from the medical and psychological communities? So really, we are letting our basketball coaches sort it out while ACLU lawyers look carefully over their shoulders!?

Letting boys play girl sports is not the starting place to fix the suicide problem or the very real daily struggle these students face dealing with something they have been handed in life. Society is broken and people have broken identities. Is it really best for us to break down the one remaining thing that has been working in society to try to fix the broken in our midst? And does it really even do that, or does it merely put them in more places exposing them to additional painful ostracization all the while transferring serious anxieties to other innocent and impressionable ones in those locker rooms? We need to have compassion but there are unintended consequences to consider too [Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey, "A One Way Alley for the Garbage Truck," Facebook post, 2014.04.28].

From a pure composition teaching perspective, Hickey's digression on the SDHSAA and transgender students does not fit with his main thesis, that anal sex is unhealthy and we thus should not overturn South Dakota's ban on same-sex marriage. Accommodating the needs and desires of students who feel their psychological identity does not match their biological sex is really an entirely different issue. Transgender students may or may not be engaging in any sexual activity, and what they do with their anuses (ani?), mouths, and other equipment is (1) none of our business and (2) irrelevant to whether they are allowed to participate in basketball or volleyball. (Hey, kids, did you notice this question won't come up at all in debate, interp, one-act play, or any of the other fine arts activities the SDHSAA offers?)

Whether we assign transgender students to boys or girls sports is a sensitive topic, requiring thoughtful deliberation. Having very little experience in this area, I will tentatively suggest that, while I don't want to question anyone's chosen identity, basic hardware questions apply. If you are a female trapped in a male body, and you haven't started the physical treatments to change your body, you have a male body, and it's only fair that you compete against other male bodies.

But in the mean time, what you do with that body when you are not on the court or the track is your business. Follow training rules, be healthy... but don't let Pastor Hickey tell you that your sexual choices should affect whether or with whom you get to play ball at school.


Also on the agenda for today's state Board of Education meeting in Sioux Falls is the first public hearing for new state physical education standards. A team of 26 South Dakota PE teachers and other experts have written up proposals for helping our kids become "physically literate individuals." What do these experts expect of our physically literate kids?

  • Standard 1: The physically literate individual demonstrates proficiency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
  • Standard 2: The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics to enhance movement and performance.
  • Standard 3: The physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
  • Standard 4: The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self, others, and environment.
  • Standard 5: The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, employment opportunities, and social interaction [South Dakota Physical Edcuation Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education, revised February 2014].

For today's workout, let's put on our Common Core tinfoil hats and see what could possibly be wrong with this effort to make our kids better, stronger, faster:

  1. The proposed South Dakota PE standards pretty much copy national standards written by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.
  2. The national task force that worked on these standards "sought to ensure that... the standards parallel common core standards language/structure." Aaaaahh! Common Core!
  3. The South Dakota educators slip the word environment into Standard 4. Aaaahh! Agenda 21!
  4. The PE standards make frequent mention of "invasion games," obviously intending to train our children in the techniques necessary for storming the Church at the Gate and forcing Pastor Hickey to pronounce homosexuals wife and wife.
  5. Standards S3.M18 and S1.H2 recommend yoga as a fitness activity. Aaaaahh! Hindu devils! New Age Theology!
  6. Also promoted by the PE standards: square dancing. Aaaaa—wait: acceptable, but only if we integrate this standard with our technical education standards and teach square dancing in skid-steers:

The Board of Education is holding a public hearing on these P.E. standards today. They're introducing the P.E. standards before Senate Bill 64 takes effect, so technically, the Board doesn't have to hold the three more public hearings that would be required by the only bill passed out of the anti-Common Core hubbub this session. But if you ask nicely, perhaps with a nice rhythmic dance routine demonstrating your physical literacy, maybe the Board of Education will oblige with another hearing.

Now, time for that nice morning walk....

p.s.: Standard S1.H2 also proposes teaching high school kids parkour. Elementary teachers sigh at seeing undone their years of labor to get kids to walk quietly and single file.


The Rapid City Journal finds it newsworthy to post a list of historic Rapid City Central High School figures who were really good at playing games. Among the honorees is Cobbler basketball coach Dave Strain. From 1963 to 1986, Strain coached the boys basketball team to the state tournament eighteen times. He was good enough at his job to be inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 1985, while still coaching.

If the Sports Hall of Fame had waited a year, they might not have inducted Strain, as he was fired for making moves off the court:

On May 7, 1986, A.S., a sophomore student at Central High School in Rapid City, was contacted by a school counselor about attendance problems. The following morning, A.S., at the request of her parents, came in to visit the counselor. A.S. advised the counselor that her mother had been working overtime and consequently A.S. was not getting enough attention from her. Later that afternoon, A.S. came back and told the counselor that A.S. had to tell somebody that something was going on in her life that she could not handle. A.S. stated that she did not know whether to trust the counselor because she did not want anybody to know what she had to tell.

A.S. told the counselor that around November of 1985, Strain asked her and a friend to help him in the computer room and they did so. Soon after that Strain would put his hand on her knee. Although A.S. thought he was being overly friendly, it did not bother her. A.S. said that after a while Strain touched her in other places, including her breasts. One time Strain started to unbutton her top, but another teacher came along and A.S. hurriedly buttoned it up. On another occasion, Strain exposed himself, grabbed her hand and put it on his penis [South Dakota Supreme Court, David Strain v. Rapid City School Board, 1989.10.11].

Afraid of the backlash that could arise from challenging one of the most popular men in town, the student nonetheless found the courage to tell more of her story at the Rapid City School Board hearing on September 18, 1986:

At the hearing A.S. related the incidents of indecent exposure and sexual contact by Strain. A.S. further testified that one day Strain asked that she run off some grades for him after school. She testified that Strain turned off the light in the computer room, pushed her against the wall, had her unbutton her jeans, pulled them down and then had intercourse with her.

A.S. acknowledged that she had not told the principal or the sheriff's department that Strain had intercourse with her. A.S. testified that she was afraid of what they would think of her, and she was afraid no one would believe her because of Strain's position. Strain was a tenured teacher at Rapid City Central High School with 25 years of teaching experience. While at Rapid City Central High School, he taught several subjects, and was a well-known and successful basketball coach. Additionally, Strain was active in involving Native Americans in athletics, academic and civic matters [Strain v. Rapid City, 1989].

A Central graduate testified that Strain had sexually harassed her in school a few years before the 1986 incidents. The Rapid City School Board concluded the evidence was solid enough to fire Strain.

These two women will likely never be celebrated in the Rapid City Journal for bravery or civic responsibility. They will likely never receive accolades from a hall of fame for protecting other young women from Strain's predations. We have our cultural priorities.

I tell this story with very personal caution. Interested parties can track down a court transcript of my own conflict with a school board that fired me for poor performance and unprofessional conduct in a South Dakota high school. Readers may review that unhappy story and discount any of my prior or subsequent achievements as they see fit.

But Strain's history and ongoing recognition raise this question: How long must the asterisk remain next to a successful citizen's name? What harm do we do the victims of his crimes by forgetting that asterisk?


Maybe we should put Wayne Carney in charge of the EB-5 visa program.

Mitchell Christian High School finds itself embroiled in a minor visa controversy. A group called A-HOPE  (African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education) brought Sudanese exchange student Majok Mangar Majok to Mitchell on an F-1 visa December 1. He enrolled as a sophomore at Mitchell Christian the next day, expecting to suit up right away and play basketball. The South Dakota High School Activities Association told the 6'9" (yes, that detail is relevant) student to go back to his books; under an F-1 visa, he's not eligible to play ball.

SDHSAA executive director Wayne Carney explains to the Mitchell Daily Republic that we have rules on who can play ball and who can't. We let foreign exchange students on J-1 visa play, because those students are on official, government-sponsored exchange programs. F-1 visa holders are here under the aegis of private student exchange programs. We permit F-1 visa holders to play if they come from one of 24 vetted, reputable programs, of which A-HOPE is not one.

A-HOPE, an organization based in basketball-obsessed Indiana, doesn't look for promising math scholars, future engineers, or budding writers. It doesn't pick smart short kids. It searches Africa for young gladiators, tall, strong boys who can entertain us in our arenas.

A-HOPE athletes have faced eligibility questions in other states. The Illinois High School Association ruled that A-HOPE takes advantage of its recruits. An ESPN investigation in 2011 found that A-HOPE spends most of its money on travel and very little on helping to provide an education. That ESPN story included this perhaps relevant finding:

The 12 players A-HOPE identifies as members of its past five classes attended at least 32 U.S. high schools among them. "It seems to be this recruitment tool for the [summer travel teams]," says Chet Marshall, an administrator at Culver (Ind.) Academy, the first of four private schools attended by Perea. "And during the year, by the way, 'We'll find you a private school so you can stay out of trouble and no one else [in the basketball subculture] can find you'" [Mike Fish, "Basketball Ties That Bind," ESPN.com, 2011.05.26].

The SDHSAA establishes eligibility rules to prevent extracurriculars from pre-empting the educational mission of our schools. Here's the SDHSAA's rationale for transfer/residency requirements:

A transfer/residency requirement assists in the prevention of students changing schools in conjunction with the change of athletic season for athletic purposes; impairs recruitment, and reduces the opportunity for undue influence to be exerted by persons seeking to benefit from a student-athletes prowess.

A transfer/residency requirement promotes stability and harmony amongst member schools by maintaining the amateur standing of high school athletics; by not letting individuals other than enrolled students participate, and upholding the principle that a student should attend the high school in the district where the student’s guardian(s) reside.

A transfer/residency requirement also prohibits foreign students, other than students who are participants in an established foreign exchange program accepted for listing by the Council on Standard for International Educational Travel (CSIET), from displacing other students from athletic opportunities [South Dakota High School Activities Association, "Eligibility Rules and Regulations," updated July 2013].

Under normal open enrollment rules, a student who switches schools mid-year has to sit out for nine school weeks before participating in any extra-curricular activities. SDHSAA will waive that rule in cases of hardship. But there appears to be no hardship here. Majok isn't a refugee uprooted from his home unexpectedly by war or other grim circumstances. He is the subject of a program seeking specifically to seed small, out-of-the-way high schools with basketball players:

“If the program was on the list, it would give it some validity,” Carney said. “Then we would know the students are not being placed at schools on their athletic abilities.”

[Mitchell Christian superintendent Joseph] Fox said he thought Majok would leave the school due to being held out of athletics for a full year [Aaron Saunders, "Foreign Exchange Student Ruled Ineligible for MCS Boys," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.12.19].

Majok's quick change of venue shows that A-HOPE does not have educational opportunities as its primary mission; SDHSAA is thus right not to play ball with them.


According to Governor Dennis Daugaard's FY 2015 Budget Book, the 32nd-highest paying state job is the head coach of men's basketball at South Dakota State University. That vital job pays $200,000, just $314 less than SDSU's VP Academic. The only other people making more than that at SDSU are the Dean of Ag/Bio and the President.

By pure market rationale, here are some jobs that the State of South Dakota values less than supervising young men dribbling and dunking:

  • Dean of the USD Law School ($194,500)
  • Head coach of SDSU women's basketball ($180,000)
  • Dean of graduate studies and research at DSU ($145,186)
  • Commissioner of economic development ($123,064... and still overpriced)
  • Deputy Attorney General ($121,798... making more than Marty because they had to add fiction writing to the job description)
  • Circuit court judges ($117,099... because facing vindictive criminals in court is easier than drilling the full-court press)
  • Professor of mechanical engineering at School of Mines ($107,004... because building better bridges and robots is only half as important as sinking a buzzer-beating three-pointer)
  • Attorney General ($103,892... o.k., given current performance, I'll agree with that prioritization)
  • Warden of the state penitentiary ($97,850... see above, on judges)
  • Warden of the state women's prison ($74,573... granted, not nearly the workload of the men's warden at the state pen, but still more bodies under supervision than on a basketball team)

My high school lit teacher said each society builds its biggest temples to its gods. Does the South Dakota budget show that we also write our biggest checks to our priests?


The Board of Regents meets this week in Rapid City to discuss, among other things, approving a $65-million football stadium for South Dakota State University.

According to the Regents' agenda packet, two thirds of the construction costs are for enclosed seating, the fancy executive suites that will bring in the bulk of new ticket revenue and allow local royalty to enjoy the gridiron spectacle with comforting glass walls to separate them from the hoi polloi and brisk October breeze.

$63 million of the project will come from bond sales, private donations already pledged, and a guarantee from the SDSU Foundation. SDSU wants the Regents to let them take another $2 million out of students' hides via a $1.75 fee on each academic credit. SDSU justifies this charge by moving the University Police Department HQ to the stadium and adding retail space.

A student taking 15 credits (and why aren't you taking at least that many credits? Get 'er done!) would pay $26.25 per semester, or $210 for a standard four-year full-time load.

So the more classes you take, the less time you have to go watch other people play sports, but the more you will pay for an athletic spectation palace.

Conservatives are huffing and puffing about having to buy health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act that cover procedures they'll never use (a complaint I never heard them lodging against pre-ACA insurance; when's the last time an insurer let you buy a policy that covers just the one broken arm that you plan to suffer from falling in the bathroom next summer?). Will they huff and puff similarly on behalf of SDSU students having to pay for a football stadium they'll never use?


Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes) thinks mixed martial arts is #1:

Chris 'Super Jew" Galinsky, Sen. Dan Lederman, and (separate photo) the ring girls, Sioux City, May 26, 2013. Photos by Dan Lederman.

Chris 'Super Jew" Galinsky, Sen. Dan Lederman, and (separate photo) the ring girls, Sioux City, May 26, 2013. Photos by Dan Lederman.

Yes, we love us a good night of T & A-kicking. And we love voting for legislation that expands opportunities for businesses in which we invest.

Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) is a bit more sensitive to the lure of bloodlust and money. He led a losing fight against the Legislative effort to legitimize our most violent sport last winter. Now he speaks truth to some of the biggest money power in South Dakota that's promoting that commercialized violence: Sanford Health. Terry Vandrovec reports in Monday's paper on the business relationship between South Dakota's largest health care business and MMA league Ultimate Fighting Championship:

The ever-expanding rural provider received approval from the UFC to work with its athletes and does so regularly in terms of training and treating injuries.

Brad Reeves, an orthopedic surgeon at Sanford, was at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when Weidman stunned Anderson Silva to win the UFC middleweight title in July. Reeves consulted with the 29-year-old Weidman in the locker room before the bout and cheered him on just beyond ringside.

The Sanford-UFC relationship began with the local agent Martin bringing some of his 26 MMA clients there, but it has expanded [Terry Vandrovec, "MMA Fights for a Bright Future in South Dakota," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.09.09].

Rep. Rev. Hickey follows with these blessedly impolitic words:

Not everyone is thrilled about the relationship. State representative and Sioux Falls pastor Steve Hickey is the most vocal elected opponent of MMA in South Dakota. “Sanford follows the money, so this is it,” he said. “(Three-billion) dollar industry, fastest growing sport in the world” [Vandrovec, 2013.09.09].

Rep. Rev. Hickey blog-elaborates on Sanford's profit motive for promoting cage fighting:

My friends tell me this kind of thing is political suicide - to smack one of our largest employers in the state, and most generous, one that does a ton of good, etc..  Here's why…

Non-profit Sanford Health is all about multi-million dollar sports venues and high dollar corporate sponsorships. Frankly, in light of that it would be odd for Sanford not to be right in the middle of the mix in bringing high dollar cage fights to town. The possibility of bringing some huge UFC matches here to their venues, televised nationally and via pay-per-view is, how shall I say, exactly what the doctor ordered [Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey, "Sanford and MMA Cage Fighting: Money or Medicine?Voices Carry, 2013.09.10].

Senator Lederman throws his votes and his money at a sport that glorifies violence and treats women as decoration. Representative Hickey's voting record on gals and guns is shaky, but I praise him for having the guts to call out one of the strongest financial forces in the state for putting profit above its mission of health and healing.


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