The Campaign to Unite a Community (CUC), a project of Sani-T (the Society to Advance Native Interests Today), is back from its winter hibernation and is building momentum in the Rapid City Community to thwart racism in Rapid City. CUC meetings, since the earliest committee formations in 2009, have brought about positive changes toward fostering social conscience. It is a step in the right direction but now that the committees have pin-pointed definite needs in a variety of city, county and state institutions, it is time to see some actual policies being implemented.
One of the suggestions the Committee on Social Policy Change has made is to create a minority liaison office in the City Police Station. This staff member would be in charge of ensuring that the civil rights of Native Americans and other minorities would be respected in legal matters. A common grievance heard at Sani-T meetings is that there is a double standard in the Rapid City legal system when it comes to the treatment of minorities and especially Native Americans. A high ranking officer from the Rapid City force has attended several committee meetings in an effort to bring about some of the changes necessary to create a better sense of fairness.
Women have cited sexist hiring practices and harassment in several business across the region. Lakota women and men have related emotional accounts of many recent incidences of profiling and discrimination toward both children and adults by law enforcement personnel, public school teachers at various grade levels, hospital staff, social services staff, juvenile detention staff, counselors, politicians and business managers. It is reminiscent of the way African Americans were treated other parts of the country 40 years ago.
What is needed are policies that will prevent the perpetuation of such atrocities as the recent hate crimes that have plagued Lakota citizens. Just this winter alone, a homeless Lakota woman was found frozen to death in the streets of Rapid City. There was only a short news article about the incident and then nothing more. It was as if the community of Rapid City was unconcerned that a woman was found dead in their city streets.
If the local institutions support the actions and the lack of action of racists and bigots on the government payroll then the public will continue to justify their own racist actions by comparing them to those of their leadership. Antiquated policies have to be replaced with effective policies that promote cultural awareness and fairness. There has to be a standard set for behavior, especially in the schools.
There is no room for discrimination in our school system. Children and families are encouraged to specify their Tribal heritage on school entry records because it is financially beneficial to the school when applying for government funds based on the numbers of Native American students in that school system. The tables turn on those children however when claiming their Native heritage makes them the target of racism by teachers who favor non-native kids in the classroom. This implies that teachers need additional training.
Sani-T has provided a forum where such grievances can be heard, but more than this, it has provided a way to organize the community to find real and logical solutions to these problems. All community members are welcomed to observe and participate. Although only a few small groups have emerged out of the committees originally formed, those groups have been faithful and dedicated to making Rapid City and Pennington County a better place to live.
It is the tolerance we have towards those who are different than ourselves and our ability to adjust to those differences while maintaining our own identities that defines us as human. Knowing that there will be complexities in society is something that we must accept and embrace as part of our existence. Knowing that we can be who we choose to be or who we are born by tradition to be and yet be uninhibited by those who are vastly different from ourselves, though they are neighbors, is what defines us as a union of many.
If we are to profess liberty and justice for all, then we must assure that everyone is represented equally. This has not been the case in our country to date. Many are tired of that fact. Rapid City is but a cog in a big wheel, but there is a chance for this town to evolve as a beacon of hope to the rest of the state, even the nation, if the effort of CUC continues. For more information about Sani-T meetings and the progress of its committees contact Layli Samimi Moore or Laurette Pourier at (605)348-3349.