The cartoon by Ricardo Cate' is worth more than the proverbial thousand words I will offer in this post. Cate' is from Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico and draws a daily panel for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
This panel from "Without Reservations" imagines a busload of Indian children happily riding on a bus to a hockey game as a reward for good grades and behavior at school. The second frame shows the same kids after suffering emotional and physical trauma when drunken white adults reduced the field trip to shambles.
Did students and staff from the American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation deserve to have beer thrown on them and suffer additional verbal abuse by a group of grown and presumably drunk men at a hockey game? Should a ten-year-old native child be expected to assimilate a threat of "go back to the reservation," because an abusive white man accused him or her of not standing during the National Anthem? What about the concept of a sovereign nation? What about the rights of children to not be bullied and physically attacked by adults? What does this say about the underbelly of Indian/white relations in South Dakota?
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I feel lazy for throwing a bunch of questions against the wall in this post and waiting to see what will stick. I feel helpless because I was not there and cannot report with my own eyes what happened. What is not in doubt is that the children had beer thrown on them and were subjected to verbal, racist abuse. The police are investigating what happened on January 24 and charges for hate crimes are being considered. Native News Online reports that up to 57 charges may be filed.
Even worse, it seems the Rapid City Journalunwittingly continued the abuse with the print headline, "Did Native Students Stand for the National Anthem?" Despite an apology from the newspaper for the race-baiting headline, the damage was done. What were the editors thinking? Or were they not thinking at all?
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The Rapid City Journalpublished a mea culpa saying the paper "deeply regrets the pain this headline has caused to our community and pledges to continue our efforts to fight racism and other social ills."
Currently, authorities are working with the American Horse School and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on an investigation. But an investigation will not resolve long-standing root causes of under-reported discrimination against native people.
There is no doubt that hate crimes against Native Americans are under-reported, or simply not reported at all. Perhaps it is because social tensions in and around reservation land on the Great Plains dates back so long that it is commonplace.
Dana Lone Hill is a friend of mine. She is also an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation. Lone Hill published an op-ed in the LA Progressive in which she adamantly says "There was never a post-racial America for the Lakota people of South Dakota after President Obama was elected President."
"In fact, in a nation that continues to expect us to be honored that they refer to us as 'redskins,' there is no such thing as a post racial America here. It was always just a pipe dream made up by the media," Lone Hill writes.
She goes on to chronicle a troubled, racist history for the Lakota and other nations that extends well beyond the boundaries of South Dakota. From smallpox blankets, to broken treaties and a lust for gold on Indian land that justified genocide, the list is long and heinous.
Lone Hill has much more to say, and it is worth noting.
Or could it be because of the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee Creek where over 300 Lakota women, children, and men were killed by the Seventh Cavalry in revenge for the 1876 victory at the Battle of Greasy Grass? The Lakota and its allies, the Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe, took out the entire Seventh Cavalry, under the command of General Custer. Twenty of these soldiers were given the nation's highest honor for massacring the Lakota. Or could it be that the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee spawned the incarceration of many political prisoners and the unsolved deaths of over 50 Lakota men, women, and children? These cases have since been reopened and closed again for lack of evidence.
Perhaps Lone Hill's most poignant explanation for the horrendous behavior at the hockey game is that no matter what the Lakota and other Nations have been forced to endure, from smallpox, to forced relocations to sterilization, they have survived for 500 years.
"They cannot stand the fact that we are still here and lived through it, she writes."
There is no doubt that dumping beer on ten year olds is pathological behavior, perpetrated by borderline personalities, if not outright psychopaths.
So what if a kid of any race does not stand for the National Anthem? Even if one opts for the argument that standing is a sign of respect, respect is earned.
Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota attorney from Standing Rock reservation at Fort Yates, put it this way.
"We (Lakota) have our own national anthem, and out of respect a majority of our people stand for America's. Could we expect your average White South Dakotan to stand for ours and (if they did not) would that be a reason to attack them?"
Common sense, but also a moral argument. Looking through the long dark tunnel of history, the Lakota have been treated with less than moral actions by the majority.
Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)