Allender Approves New Native Cultural Advisor for RCPD

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender took office on Monday. On Friday, his successor in the police department, Chief Karl Jegeris, announced that he is hiring Lakota speaker and student-activist Vaughn Vargas as cultural advisor, a new part-time position in the RCPD. Here’s the full press release from School of Mines, where Vargas is currently studying:

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology senior and national Udall Scholar Vaughn Vargas has been appointed to a newly-created crime-prevention role as cultural advisor with the Rapid City Police Department.

Vaughn Vargas, cultural advisor, Rapid City Police Department
Vaughn Vargas, cultural advisor, Rapid City Police Department

Vargas, an industrial engineering and engineering management major, was announced today to the new part-time position by Police Chief Karl Jegeris. Vaughn will lead a culturally diverse committee of community representatives who will guide development of new police efforts and strengthen existing programs and communication efforts to enhance trust within the community.

“To be clear, this is a significant crime prevention effort. As a department we are always looking to stand on the forefront of methods and techniques to stop crime at its roots. I am ready to move forward with a drastically new and proactive approach to prevent future residents like Mr. Vargas from going down a similar path, when they clearly have the potential for success,” said Jegeris, referring to Vaughn’s previous experiences in the criminal justice system. “After careful consideration, I am confident that his past adversities enable him to better represent a cross section of the community that our department disproportionately engages with on a daily basis.”

Vargas received the prestigious national Udall Scholarship in 2014 and was named a Udall alternate in 2015 and has shared his motivational story with many community groups, in addition to leading student initiatives at South Dakota Mines.

SD Mines President Heather Wilson said Vargas is a good role model for positive choices young people can make.

“I commend the chief of police for bringing a cultural advisor into the department. Vaughn Vargas is a Udall Scholar and an exceptional young leader at the School of Mines. I’ve gotten to know him personally over the past two years and he has always been very open about poor choices he made when he was younger and how he got his life on a better path, in part by coming to Mines. He listens with care and speaks with compassion and understanding. We are proud of the leader he is becoming and the role model that he is. I’m confident Rapid City will benefit from his service,” Wilson said.

Vargas was the first South Dakota Mines student to receive the Udall distinction, one of five prestigious, national scholarships established by the U.S. Congress and which honors students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American healthcare.

He is an active board member of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and has shared his story as a motivational speaker with various community organizations, including the OLC Student Leadership Conference, Box Elder Job Corps, ARC of the Black Hills, Wellspring Treatment Center, Awareness Counseling and Cornerstone Rescue Mission.

Vargas has been awarded a multitude of honors during his academic career, first at Oglala Lakota College (OLC) and Black Hills State University, then at South Dakota Mines. He has been Mr. AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Consortium) 2013, Student of the Year at OLC, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Tiospaye and All Nationals AMP Scholar and a NASA Space Grant Recipient. He has also earned the American Indian Entrepreneurial Scholarship and has completed an NSF Quality Education for Minorities internship last summer.

He has also served as chapter president of the American Indian Business Leaders at OLC, American Indian Science & Engineering Society, Music Center Activities Club and Institute of Industrial Engineers [South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, press release, 2015.07.10].

We’ve discussed concerns that Mayor Allender might not work on white-tribal relations in Rapid City. Yet Mayor Allender personally approved Chief Jegeris’s proposal, in a town where Indians like Vargas make up 12% of the population but 59% of arrests. Vargas will likely get right to work, since the racially charged trial of Trace O’Connell starts week after next.

15 Responses to Allender Approves New Native Cultural Advisor for RCPD

  1. I would hope that this young man can help to make a difference in the terrible race division that happens in west river and in particular, Rapid City. Maybe some positive attitude towards these young people will help to overcome the mindset that all is hopeless. It is certainly worth a try, kudos to the new mayor and his chief of police on working to help find a transition to a huge problem.

  2. Well said. I for one would like to see another Year of Reconciliation like Governor Mickelson had in 1990. There can never be enough of this.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir

    He’s a young man coming into a big job. I hope his youth is an asset and wish him much success in protecting the Indian folks and educating the white folks.

  4. Vargas has also been on the receiving end of law enforcement. He knows what his Native neighbors go through trying to get by in Rapid City.

    Mr. Sol, I’d love to see a revival of that 1990 effort as well. Renewed Reconciliation will take serious, vocal, visible leadership, just as it did with Mickelson.

  5. larry kurtz

    Anyone believing tribal nations should or will reconcile with white South Dakota is delusional.

  6. confederate flags are flying in rapid city and the valley :(

  7. Smart move by the new mayor. Vargas is a quality individual with high integrity. Baby steps……..

  8. Are those flags any sort of organized protest, Leslie, or just the usual foolishness?

    King, you’re right: lots of little steps, requiring constant attention for opportunities for progress.

  9. Ah yes, confederate flags flying in Rapid City. Nothing new there. The dude that started to carve Mt. Rushmore, was a KKK man himself. He was anti-sematic and thought the Nazi’s were cool that carved Stone Mountain in Georgia to honor the confederate cause. My point is that we have had all of this in South Dakota since before it was even named. Maybe Borglum was just abusing the Six Grandfathers as a way to screw the Natives in a commercial way. Whatever the case was, we now have his work to see almost daily on billboards, while the state gives a big screw you to a name change for a peak that honors a Native woman killer.

    Change has to start somewhere.

    Maybe an avowed racist like the new mayor can repudiate his past and try to move forward, the city. If this is the case, we should welcome it.

  10. Roger Cornelius

    The first thought I had when I read this article was, is this just Allender’s “token” approach to racism in Rapid City?
    Also note that Allender was sworn in early in the week and by week ends he and Police Chief Karl Jeregis announced this new position, why didn’t Jeregis present this to Kookier earlier, was it he and Allender’s getting back at Kookier for not appointing Jeregis police chief after Allender’s retirement?
    Politics aside, it as at least a first step in the right direction, but I won’t hold my breath.

  11. Douglas Wiken

    Always look a gift horse in the mouth.

  12. I hope this is a true attempt to reconcile and improve relations with the native community. I’m willing to give credit where credit is due. Now we need to see real efforts to change everything at the roots as stated. That will take more than appointing an advisor. Vargas is an amazing success story and can add much to solutions but only if he and other leaders from the Native American community are included in decisions to truly change the real problems. I pray that will be the case!

  13. one confederate flag may have recently been run up since it is under another flying flag on same pole.

  14. i believe borglum was a naysayer in the recent name change comments on harney peak.

  15. If you hang the American flag upside down it is a sign of distress. Flying the traitor flag upside down or right side up ? means the same thing, treason.