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Rapid City Is the Rez—Philip Lawyer Writes on Tribal-White Relations

One white man from Philip faces trial for allegedly throwing beer and racist insults at Lakota children. Another white man from Philip tries to put on those children’s shoes.

For blogging at its best, I yield the floor to John Tsitrian, who himself yields the floor to Philip attorney Neal Eisenbraun, who writes a lengthy, richly documented, and thoughtful epistle on the cruel and ignorant irony of a white man in Rapid City telling Lakota children to “go back to the rez.” The Supreme Court created a trust fund that has grown to $900 million specifically because Rapid City, the Black Hills, and pretty much all of West River was supposed to be the rez:

The argument that, well, $900,000,000 could solve a lot, if not all, of the problems plaguing the reservation is academic, because far more so could the return of the vast amount of land that was wrongfully taken, land from which, taking the Black Hills alone, the value of gold reaped has far exceeded the $900,000,000. Nonetheless, this is beside the point that saying, “Go back to the rez,” to a Lakota Sioux is an astonishing insult considering that, but for the most “ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings [that] will [e]ver, in all probability, be found in our history,” they would have already been on the rez, and the men in the skybox, trespassers. But for “the pattern of duress practiced by the Government on the starving Sioux to get them to agree to the sale of the Black Hills,” which the Supreme Court determined was not, in fact, a sale, those Indian children would have already been on the rez [Neal Eisenbraun, “‘Go Back to the Rez’—Thoughts on Why It Hurts So Much,” The Constant Commoner, 2015.03.25].

Eisenbraun turns from historical ignorance to young Lakota aspirations. He weaves into his essay the story of a Lakota girl from Wounded Knee who aspires to rise above the poverty and despair of the reservation to go to the big city, where she can find more opportunities and more people who think like her. She’s getting good grades to earn her way to the big city, just as the American Horse School kids earned their way to that fateful Rapid City Rush hockey game last January. Eisenbraun senses the pain young people like these must feel to aspire to bigger places, to do good things to earn a seat in those places, and then to be rejected by the occupiers of those stolen places.

Pray that we, who have no idea what it is like to not only merely survive, but to excel in an environment such as the one Carleigh struggles daily within, will begin to welcome her and all the children with open arms and love. They have suffered long enough [Eisenbraun, 2015.03.25].

Read Eisenbraun in full. Whatever the outcome of the trial in June, remember that we should be talking about Eisenbraun’s call to love.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2015-03-26

    Mr. Eisenbraun has written one of the best articles describing intergenerational trauma and its affects on Indian children that I have ever read. His insights into Lakota life are magnificent for a non-Indian.

    Is there a possibility that a dialogue can be opened to discuss racial issues in our state sans the typical racial slurs, stereotyping, and out and out condemnation and judgment of Lakota life?

  2. Paul Seamans 2015-03-26

    This should be an op-ed in the RCJ as well as other newspapers.

  3. jerry 2015-03-26

    Indeed, this is a powerful article that speaks the truth Roger and should be in all South Dakota papers as you say Paul Seamans. There are those among us who try to understand the differences and why they exist, that is the power of finding the reconciliation of the truth. We all must push these differences to the light so all can see the past to find our way to the future.

  4. larry kurtz 2015-03-26

    Anyone detect any solutions in that letter? Neither did I.

  5. Steve Hickey 2015-03-26

    I agree – very helpful article.

    Here’s a letter I sent around a month ago have heard back from Tim Giago, Mayor Kooiker and Brendon Johnson. It was sent to the our Division of Labor/Human Rights Commissioners, Governor’s office, Mayor Kooiker and our new state and tribal relations secretary.

    Greetings to all.

    In the past weeks and months I have spoken to several of you and numerous others about the escalating racial tensions in South Dakota. It is my opinion there is the potential for a “Ferguson” here. One tribe has declared war on the XL Keystone Pipeline, another has declared a state of emergency because of 92 teen suicide attempts this year, we have a Montgomery Bus Boycott style effort underway against Rapid City because of deep dissatisfaction following the beer-chucking at 52 American Horse School kids. The Pine Ridge Tribal President is asking for a US Civil Rights Probe into that incident. Mayor Kookier has dusted off the Civil Rights Commission in Rapid City to help address these matters. In this letter, I’m hoping to dust off the State Civil Rights Commission and get you involved.

    In conversations with Mayor Kookier it is my understanding that the beer-chucking incident is now the most investigated case of disorderly conduct in this history of our state, over 500 investigative hours. The obvious disappointment to the native community is the investigation didn’t uncover anything that would result in more substantial charges. I’m not sure what a US Civil Rights Probe would uncover– my suspicion is it would be just as confusing as Ferguson––– were his hands up or down, etc etc.––– did the beer spill or was it thrown?

    My hope is you’ll agree that those details really don’t matter in addressing the bigger issue. When conditions are bone dry, even the slightest ignition point creates a wildfire. We need to address those conditions in South Dakota. We just celebrated 125 years of statehood and I made some noise to point out it’s hard to throw a party when a tenth of our populace resents that we ever came here. If we want to have a good future together, and we all do, we need to take an honest look at the past and present and work toward building trust. It’s arguable that the cultural commodity for our white population is material and the cultural commodity for natives is honor. It is not okay that 92 precious Pine Ridge young people have lost all hope. It is not okay that we have states attorneys in South Dakota boasting about how they have put more natives in the Pen than any other states attorney.

    It is my assumption that our state Human Rights Commission is primarily focused on labor discrimination issues. For that reason, I’m asking for guidance to establish a sub-group or new group that deals with broader discrimination issues.

    Some of you know my suggestion is that South Dakota appoint something along the lines of a South African Style Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The first was famously the one Nelson Mandela put Bishop Desmond Tutu in charge of to deal with the decades of atrocities under apartheid. There have been 40 such commissions since all over the world and only one in America. We need one here in South Dakota. It can be called anything; the one in Peru was called a Historical Clarification Commission. We can pick our own words, truth, trust, honor, reconciliation, Dakota… etc.

    Here is a website if you are unfamiliar with these Commissions.

    The perception of silence from Pierre right now only furthers the divide. There are a number of us who care deeply and believe we can have a good future together if we reach out and take the initiative to build bridges.


    Rep Steve Hickey
    605-321-5430 cell.

  6. jerry 2015-03-26

    No solutions? How on earth could there be a simple solution in an op-ed on something that has gone on for centuries here Larry? You cannot cure cancer with a paper, but you can continue to address it. Racism is embedded in our culture for all to see. This article is a start for sure, but until we eliminate the hate that comes from direct media publications as acceptable, we will not solve anything. The article is a start like all papers, it is up to the reader to make the statement of how to combat it.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-03-26

    You’re right, Jerry, electing Democrats to posts where progress could be made when the SDGOP has bought all the seats is not simple.

    A Wall boy, Eisenbraun doesn’t have much of a paper trail but he does work on American Indian issues.

  8. jerry 2015-03-26

    A golden opportunity to try to unite people on these radical divide issues before us. We simply need to put people like Mr. Eisenbraun into the politics of change. The status quo has got to go. What have they done for our state? Not a damn thing but trash it.

  9. jerry 2015-03-26

    There is a play that is now playing in Rapid City called “Driving Miss Daisy”. Went to see it some days back and was amazed at how well it was received by a full house. Racial divides are possible to change with ways to make it happen. A play or paper is a start and a trial that puts it all on the table, is necessary to start to find what is going on. Governor Michelson gave it one helluva try to start a dialogue, Bill Janklow was the Sheridan to end it all. There are plenty center republicans and one large chunk of Independents that could make a decent play with democrats to change the way we do things here, including racial issues.

  10. larry kurtz 2015-03-26

    Which Democrat could win the Rapid City mayoral election, Jerry?

  11. jerry 2015-03-26

    Whoever is anointed by the center right politicians Larry. Last I looked into Rapid City politics, there were no democrats to be had. Closet true democrat to any kind of seat would be Robin Paige. The current mayor has a big ole chink in his armor after the failed vote for the expansion of the civic center. Who do you see as a democratic candidate to go up against the former chief of police?

  12. larry kurtz 2015-03-26

    Malcom Chapman would be a good candidate.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2015-03-26

    Rapid City mayor Sam Kookier, a Romney Republican, has some good solid support from the Native community. Allender is a retired cop that has a questionable history in the community.
    As soon as the Journal posted the article about James Swan, the problem with Rapid City came out in the form of comments to the article. As usual, they are snide short sighted comments laced with racism.

  14. jerry 2015-03-26

    I looked Chapman up and do not see his party affiliation Larry. From what I read, he was an elected official for 6 years until he decided not to seek re-election. First off, is he a democrat and second would he be willing to run for mayor?

  15. larry kurtz 2015-03-26

    $20 says he’ll be at the Dem shindig at Prairie Edge, Jerry.

  16. jerry 2015-03-26

    I don’t want to bet, but hope to be able to see if you are right.

  17. Les 2015-03-26

    Malcolm Chapman is a class act, nothing short of what I consider the perfect candidate for governor of SD, Larry. My guess is Democrat.

  18. larry kurtz 2015-03-26

    Les, Malcom (one l) is not a South Dakota native so a run at governor would be tough.

  19. Curt 2015-03-27

    If a wager needs to be settled, Malcom was not in attendance … sad to report.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-27

    Once upon a time, no one was a native. Anything can happen—Governor Chapman and constructive interracial dialogue.

  21. John 2015-03-27

    James Swan may be onto a partial, beginning solution – treaty fishing and hunting rights.

    While the initial effort moved the ball it fell short but not from lack of try. In my book Swan counted coup. Federal courts recognize tribal historic and treaty fishing and hunting rights in many jurisdictions to include but not limited to places in MN, WI, etc. Imagine free fishing, free hunting rights for enrolled tribal members in SD, in the Black Hills. Imagine half of the tags, or more for Black Hills deer, elk being allotted to tribal members. It would be a beginning to recognize tribal rights. And it also would drive the white racists out of the woodwork.

  22. Les 2015-03-27

    If Chap has heard any of the personal attack that goes on here, why would he attend, Curt?

  23. Les 2015-03-27

    Did leslie pound Woster just to make sure the partisan reporting ends?

  24. Curt 2015-03-27

    Les –
    To your two questions … I have observed very of the ‘personal attack that goes on here’ and none at all directed toward someone like Malcom. My guess is that something else kept Malcom from attending. You are certainly free to ask him.
    Leslie is a gentleman and would not ‘pound Woster’ – even if Kevin had graced the event with his presence.

  25. Curt 2015-03-27

    … oops, dropped a word. Should read ‘I have observed very LITTLE of the … ‘

  26. Les 2015-03-27

    The leslie I see here is no gentleman, Curt. Very likely, he might not say to my face what he does here which does not promote non partisan. He was ” going to be hitting up the putz Woster” at your Thursday evening event.

  27. jerry 2015-03-27

    Intriguing les, do tell why you feel so intuitively confident.

  28. Roger Cornelius 2015-03-27

    Anyway, there is an additional connotation or implication of “Go back to the Rez” that Mr. Eisenbraun didn’t hit on, and that is those that use that hateful phrase are telling Indians we don’t want you here, those Indian children are not entitled to be among us. You simply are not good enough.

  29. bearcreekbat 2015-03-27

    Roger, their may be additional motivations for such comments as “go back to the rez.”

    First, there is fear – the fear that someone perceived to be different (Natives) may be a better, more powerful and honorable, human being. When someone is afraid, even of little kids and their chaperones, he or she could say hateful things in an ill-conceived idea that this could make he or she safer by showing aggression.

    Second, there is self-hatred. When someone hates who he or she is, then they may try to convince themselves that some identifiable other group of persons are worse. There is substantial evidence of this attitude in the historical treatment of various immigrant groups, such as the Irish or the Chinese, by other groups in an effort to raise their own social standing.

    Third, there is guilt. When someone suspects or knows that they belong to a group that exploited and harmed innocents (such as the manner in which white America tried to destroy Indian culture, broke treaties, harmed Indian children, etc), one possible defense mechanism is to demonize the innocents in the hopes of assuaging the perceived guilt.

    I imagine there may be many more reasons for bad behavior. Whatever O’Connell’s motivation for whatever behavior he engaged in, he could well be an unhappy, deeply troubled human being. I would bet the same is true for others who think their brand of racism is somehow a path to building up their own self perceived deficiencies.

  30. Roger Cornelius 2015-03-27

    You make very valid points and you are probably correct.
    Another observation that I have detected from reading social media and particularly the Rapid City Journal comment section is that it appears there is a lot of resentment from whites, repeating stereotypes about Indians is what they thrive on.
    Many think that when Indians fight for either their civil rights or treaty rights they want “special treatment”.
    If a situation exist where federal money is involved, the immediate assumption is that those are My Tax Dollars”, never mind that Indians pay taxes too.
    There are often comments about all the free stuff Indians get, but they fail to spell out what that stuff is.
    If they mean food stamps, housing, etc., yes some Indians get these benefits, we don’t get them by virtue of the fact that we are Indian and certainly not all Indians get them.
    The reality about food stamps is that red states have a higher enrollment in EBT program than any other group.

  31. leslie 2015-03-30

    good old 1872 mining subsidy law! as mentioned a year ago, current value of just homestake’s mined gold is about $52 billion.

  32. leslie 2015-06-09

    cory, i wonder i you would ask john to ask neal to write the harney name changre board secretary-

    encourage a comment from the supportive town mayor too!

    deadline 6.15,2915

    negative vitriolic comments are pouring in since the board’s announced preliminary approval, and the chair’s subsequent formal position on behalf of her employer, SDDOT, AGAINST the name change.

  33. leslie 2015-06-09

    corrected 06.15.2015

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