Mr. Kurtz alerts us that our Lakota people may translate their dissatisfaction over Rapid City's response to an alleged racist attack on 57 American Horse School kids at a Rush hockey game in January into boycotts. An anonymous source tells the press the Oglala Sioux Tribe may be asking tribal schools not to hold events in Rapid City. That boycott would include the Lakota Nation Invitational, a massive athletic, academic, and arts event that brings $5 million to $6 million to Rapid City's economy. The Oglala Sioux Tribe will press an LNI boycott if tournament organizers don't move LNI to another city.

Comparing the proposed LNI boycott to the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus boycott may be instructive. The Montgomery bus boycott worked because it exerted economic pressure directly on the entity exercising discrimination, the public transit system that segregated buses. It was tolerable to the city's black residents because boycott organizers were able to organize viable alternatives to the boycotted service. Even this effective boycott ended not because the city relented but because the Supreme Court ruled that segregating buses was unconstitutional.

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker says an LNI boycott would unfairly target Rapid City for a crime perpetrated by one guy from out of town. Indians could boycott Philip, the hometown of the man charged with throwing beer at the American Horse School kids, but who from Pine Ridge ever shops in Philip?

Boycotting LNI and other events in Rapid City does not directly target the police or the state's attorney responsible for the criminal charge that Indians perceive as insufficient. The indirect pressure on city and county officials may not outweigh the direct negative impacts on kids and families denied an opportunity to enjoy big events in Rapid City.

Boycotting communities will need to offer alternative venues and events. Moving LNI this year would be tough; it's not until December, but the contracts are already signed, and finding another West River town with enough lodging and contest space not already booked may be impossible. Alternative events may have to be part of a long-term strategy: Pine Ridge leaders may have to look at investing in larger event facilities, hotels, and restaurants that could handle LNI for one week, but making such facilities financially viable would require a broader marketing strategy that would bring other big events to town throughout the year. Turning Pine Ridge into a tournament/conference/tourism destination would be great for tribal economic self-sufficiency, but it would require far more sustained planning, investment, and collaboration than simply telling people not to go to Rapid City.

Boycotting Rapid City may register anger, but it won't convict Trace O'Connell of any stiffer charges. A boycott may comfort racists in Rapid City—Ah, fewer Indians stinking up our town! The goal can't simply be to reinforce segregation and let Whitopia stand. The goal must be to engage all parties—including us white folks—in making Rapid City a place where everyone is welcome.

p.s.: Speaking of white folks, where is the state's Tribal Relations Office? One would think that the state would take a keen interest in mediating the most prominent current white-tribal dispute in the state. But last week, the Tribal Relations Office's priority was flacking for the Department of Agribusiness and promoting CAFOs on the rez.

22 comments

I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.

38 comments

We now have charges in the January 24 incident in which drunk honyockers in a VIP box at a Rapid City Rush hockey game allegedly threw beer and racial insults at Indian kids from the American Horse School. Rapid City Police considered charges of assault, hate crime, and child abuse, but they now say the evidence uncovered by their month-long investigation only supports charges of disorderly conduct against Trace O'Connell of Philip.

American Horse School officials are not satisfied:

Some people at a meeting at American Horse School Wednesday say they were shocked when they heard only one misdemeanor charge was filed, against only one person.

School board member Justin Poor Bear says, "We feel there was injustice. Upset. Anger. A lot of anger. We feel like there was nothing done to help us."

...Thursday afternoon, we received a copy of a letter from Oglala Sioux Tribe president John Yellow Bird Steele to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a Justice Department investigation into what the tribal president describes as "racial harassment" [Jack Caudill, "American Horse School Reacts to Charge," KEVN-TV, 2015.02.19].

After the charge and O'Connell's name were made public Wednesday, O'Connell received so many death threats that law enforcement moved the O'Connell family out of their home. So says Patrick Duffy, O'Connell's client, who says the hockey game incident has been (in the words of SDPB's Charles Michael Ray) "blown up in social media":

"My client didn't say anything racist. We're gonna find out when we go to trial what really happened. But my client and I apologize, really, I apologize to the children of the Lakota Nation for how they have been made to feel about this. I look upon them with nothing but respect as does my client, and he is really heartbroken over this" [Patrick Duffy, interview with Charles Michael Ray, "Disorderly Conduct Charge Angers Some Native Parents," SDPB Radio, 2015.02.19].

Duffy makes a similar claim in the Rapid City Journal:

There are two casualties in this case, Duffy, O'Connell's attorney, said: the truth and the students who attended the hockey game. The truth, he said, has been tarnished by hearsay that exploded on social media.

“The real casualty has been these children. They only know what they have been told has happened,” Duffy said. “Obviously, all of us in South Dakota need a good dose of truth before this case can possibly be laid to rest” [Andrea Cook, "City: Philip Man Charged with Disorderly Conduct in Rush Hockey Game Incident," Rapid City Journal, 2015.02.18].

Look out, fellow media: it sounds like Duffy sees daylight for his client in putting us on trial. That should make us nervous, because Duffy is a heck of a lawyer.

And just to make things interesting, you can't dismiss Duffy as some white apologist for racism. He has taken tough cases defending Indians in the past, like the October 2013 police tasering of a Rosebud Sioux child and the landmark 2004–2005 Bone Shirt v. Hazeltine case on Indian voting rights in South Dakota. Sure, Duffy is a lawyer, paid to provide the legal representation to which every citizen is entitled, but when Patrick Duffy says he and his client respect Indians, he's got serious credibility to back that claim up.

Throwing beer and racial insults at kids is not acceptable. Neither are death threats that force an accused man to move his family out of their home for their own safety. Trace O'Connell now faces the glare of publicity and accountability before the law before the crime of which he is accused. He also has one of the best defense attorneys a man could ask for in a case like this. Let's hear the evidence the witnesses, the police, and the defense can bring forward through the proper legal process to help us understand what happened.

246 comments

House Appropriations felt like spending money yesterday. The committee heard five bills and approved four of them:

  1. House Bill 1147 would spend $1.274 million to increase the merit-based Opportunity Scholarship for university students from $5,000 to $6,500. Governor Dennis Daugaard asked for this bill, and House Appropriations approved it 9–0.
  2. House Bill 1185 would spend $4 million so the state can self-insure its buildings. Governor Daugaard asked for this bill, and House Appropriations said o.k., 8–0.
  3. House Bill 1186 would use some of the $10 million appropriated to the Science and Technology Authority last year to include the Sanford Lab in the former Homestake Mine in the state's captive insurance company plan. The Governor asked for this bill, and House Appropriations complied, 9–0.
  4. House Bill 1187 would spend $2 million to include five state entities in the captive insurance plan. The Governor asked, House Appropriations assented, 9–0.

House Appropriations had to balance all that aye with a little bit of nay. Thank goodness they had House Bill 1199 to kick around. House Bill 1199 would have spent $700,000 to help tribal colleges defray some costs involved in educating non-tribal students. Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) said about 20% of the students (out of a total enrollment that ranges between 700 and 1,000) enrolling at Sinte Gleska, mostly local kids who need to stick around the family farm or have other obligations that keep them from trekking off to some farther-away college, plus some of the Teach for America recruits who take classes to boost their credentials. Georgia Hackett, Sinte Gleska VP for resource development, said her university doesn't turn students away for inability to pay and thus is carrying $939,118 in non-Indian student debt. Marlies White Hat, graduate and employee of Sinte Gleska, told the committee that helping non-tribal students attend tribal colleges helps fight racism. Cheryl Medearis, a teacher education instructor at Sinte Gleska, says her school is vital for producing new teachers to address the workforce shortage in her portion of the state.

HB 1199 had more proponents testify yesterday than any other bill on the House Appropriations agenda. But Governor Daugaard sent Steven Kohler from the Bureau of Finance and Management to say we can't afford to help the tribal colleges and that the state constitution won't allow the Regents to give money to schools they don't oversee, and House Appropriations agreed, voting 6–2 (GOP aye, Dems nay) to kill HB 1199.

Asked at last Saturday's Aberdeen crackerbarrel about funding a tuition freeze for Regental students, Republican legislators said they couldn't commit to dollar figures or priorities until the appropriators had a chance to count all the dollars available. But House appropriators seem to understand South Dakota's budgetary priorities quite well: do what the Governor says, and don't spend money on tribes or education.

4 comments

Watertown Arrows fans didn't like us outsiders talking about the cultural misappropriation inherent in their homecoming activities. Now some Dakota students who attended Sisseton public schools but switched to Tiospa Zina to get away from racial prejudice are saying Sisseton's team name (the Redmen) and homecoming activities offend their cultural identity:

A group of female American Indian basketball players in Roberts County are working on a cause that their grandparents took up more than 20 years ago.

Tate, Mahpiya, Fidelity and Persephone Eastman, along with a few of their friends, hosted a rally this week asking the Sisseton School District to change the name of its team and logo from Redmen [Katherine Grandstrand, "Teens Rally for Name Change," Aberdeen American News, 2015.02.06].

A relative of the girls recalls cultural misppropriation in Sisseton's homecoming activities that sounds very similar to Watertown's:

LeeAnn Eastman said that when she went to high school in Sisseton, she had similar experiences as her daughters and nieces. Because of the way she was treated at Sisseton, she said she transferred to Tiospa Zina.

“I couldn’t handle that,” LeeAnn Eastman said. “You just feel lower, like you’re below them, like you’ll never be as good as them.”

The nickname isn’t the only issue. The way the American Indian is used at school events, like homecoming, is also problematic, LeeAnn Eastman said.

“They crown a chieftain and a princess, and they put on a headdress. The girls braid up their hair, they put paint on their face,” she said. “I haven’t seen it since I was really young, but I know before, they did mock ceremonies. They mocked our ceremonies. ... That’s how we pray” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

The girls organized a protest of the Redmen name before Tuesday's basketball game between Tiospa Zina and Sisseton. The Sisseton superintendent appears to find First Amendment exercise incompatible with physical exercise:

Some people didn’t like that the protest took place before a girls’ basketball game, Sisseton School District Superintendent Stephen Schulte said. It affected not only those in attendance, but the game itself, he added.

“They have an opportunity to come to school board and make suggestions, and the board can act on that,” Schulte said. “But at this point in time, recently, they haven’t done that. They’ve done it in the past” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

Hmm... if a group is aggrieved by a sports team's name, it seems to me the most appropriate place to raise awareness of that grievance would be at an event where that name is being chanted and trumpeted the most loudly. But then, what do I know about basketball?

38 comments

According to multiple eyewitnesses who have gone on the record with their names, last Saturday, January 24, at least one person in a VIP box at a Rapid City Rush hockey game threw racial insults and beer at a group of 57 American Indian students from American Horse School in Allen. The racist bullying was so bad that the American Horse students' parents and chaperones took the kids out of the arena during the third period to protect the children.

Now an anonymous individual who claims to have been in the VIP box but sitting at the bar an not paying much attention to what was happening at the game tries tells the Rapid City Journal that the kids started it by not standing up for the National Anthem.

Notice that this anonymous source does not refute that the racist assault occurred. This anonymous source does not refute that grown-ups bullied children. This anonymous source attacks the victims with a weak charge that other eyewitnesses who use their names say is not true.

But most importantly, even if we took everyone at their word here, let's put the attack in personal context: Anonymous Individual, if your son or daughter did not stand up for the Star-Spangled Banner, would you call your child racist names and pour beer on your child? If you would, stay the heck away from my child. If you wouldn't, then how could you ever reach the conclusion that any adult could justify responding to someone else's anthem-reposed child in such a brutish fashion?

When I'm at public events where participants are invited to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I omit "under God" (as well as all of those ill-placed grade-school commas). Anonymous Individual, if you hear me not uttering those two words, are you going to call me names and throw beverages at me?

Perhaps we need to invoke Charlie Hebdo: the speech acts of others do not justify violence.

We do not need to establish whether or not Anonymous Individual's attack on the American Horse students' patriotism is true; it does not matter in terms of adjudicating the possible hate crime in question. Nothing justifies calling children racist names and dumping alcoholic beverages on them. It matters only in seeing how racists rationalize their attacks on vulnerable children by further insulting those children.

55 comments

The Legislature isn't totally ignoring the needs of education and American Indians in South Dakota. Senate Bill 163 would restore state matching funds for Teach for America, the private non-profit that recruits dozens of young teachers for reservation schools in South Dakota. The Legislature pulled its support for Teach for America last session; SB 163 would put $500,000 back in the budget for the program.

House members from Indian Country—Republican Elizabeth May and Democrats Kevin Killer and Shawn Bordeaux—are all sponsors of SB 163. Everyone else in Pierre should support it. After my conversations with Mission-based TFA director James Curran and proud TFA alumna and Spring Creek teacher Morandi Hurst last summer, I am confident Teach for America deserves our investment.

SB 163 could use some amendment. The current language appears to have been hastily assembled, just to get a bill in the hopper in time for proper treatment later. Section 1 of the bill amends the existing statute authorizing TFA funding by editing out an older teacher-recruitment goal to make a more open-ended goal (remember, bills amending existing statute show existing language in normal text, stricken language with overstrikes, and inserted language with underlining):

Through the grant program, the state will partner with private contributors to fund an expansion of the Teach for America program in the state that will allow the number of teachers placed to grow from fifty-seven to one hundred by 2015 to meet the demand.

...but then leaves in place the outdated estimates of the demand:

The expansion will allow Teach for America to positively impact two-thirds of the Native American students on reservations in the state and more than half of the Native American students statewide, and to strengthen its efforts to improve the academic achievement of low-income, Native American students and to increase the educational opportunities afforded them.

If SB 163 is going to strike the numbers for teachers, it should also strike the numbers for students, lest someone read the bill to limit the number of American Indian students to be served.

In the next paragraph, SB 163 inserts where it should strike:

Funding through the grant program shall be provided to Teach for America over a period of four fiscal years beginning on July 1, 2012. Funding appropriated for the grant program pursuant to this Act shall be provided to Teach for America over a period of four fiscal years beginning on July 1, 2015.

The inserted text clearly supersedes the existing text; let's keep our statutes clean and strike the existing funding dates.

Those bill-writing errors are poor style; Senate Bill 163 is good substance. Pass it, and help Teach for America provide the teachers that our Department of Education says we cannot.

3 comments

The accusation that racist thugs in a VIP box threw insults and beer at kids from the American Horse School at a Rapid City Rush hockey game Saturday appears all the more substantive and serious. The Rapid City Police Department is gearing up to throw the book at the alleged malefactors:

Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris said his officers know the identity of at least one person whose conduct was "scorching of your soul" when he insulted and threw beer on a group of Native American students at the Rush hockey game last Saturday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Police Chief Karl Jegeris made the announcement at a press conference that followed a 2 1/2-hour closed-door meeting that included parents of the children, American Horse School officials, Oglala Sioux Tribal representatives, Mayor Sam Kooiker, police and the Pennington County State's Attorney's office.

"We're going to be looking at assault. We're going to look at the hate crimes statutes. We will look at the child abuse statutes. And, we will look at any other relevant statutes," Jergeris said of charges that may be filed against the person or people who participated in the harassment of the students [Andrea J. Cook, "Jegeris: Police Have Identified One Person Suspected of Insulting Native American Students," Rapid City Journal, 2015.01.28].

Chief Jegeris caught some grief last month over what seemed to be an effort to hinder a Lakota protest downtown, but turned out to be seeking dialogue working in the best interest of the protestors and public safety. On this case of racist bullying of children, he seems to making clear that he will stand for equal treatment under the law for all residents and visitors.

And on top of racist piggery, who did these brutish hockey fans think they were to pick on children, who'd earned their trip to the big-town hockey game as a reward for their work at school? As Mato Standing High, attorney for four of the harassed children's parents says, this behavior should outrage all parents:

"They're your children, too. If you live in South Dakota, these are your children," he said. "It doesn't matter where they live. It doesn't matter what color their skin is. If they live in South Dakota, they are your children, too" [Cook, 2015.01.28].

Chief Jegeris appears to take that message to heart. Rapid City has some ugly bullies. It also appears to have a police chief who is prepared to shut those bullies down.

111 comments

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