ON THE ROAD – Where do we fall, where do we stand?


Where do we fall, where do we stand?

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
Winston Churchill

Imagine that you chaperone a group of fifty-seven elementary and middle school students on an outing.  There, these young students were accosted with verbal insults and doused with beer, not by other students but rather by other adults.

As I imagine myself being in that situation as a chaperone, I think of the anger that would well up in me and my struggle to focus on safety while setting a good example for the kids. It would be a challenge to re-channel my fight reaction to a more measured response. That’s just me and yet I know it isn’t just me; many of you might also experience the same double struggle in this situation.

On January 24, 2015, Native American students, along with their chaperones, from American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota did experience the scene described above. They attended a minor league hockey game at the Rapid City Convention Center. The students earned this outing for their exemplary behavior and academic achievement in school.

The Rapid City Rush hockey team enjoys a lot of support from throughout the community.  These students took particular interest as the team recently had two Canadian First Nations players on their roster. According to an article on Indianz.com, “What is often overlooked inside of the arena is a unique sense of unity that transcends the socio-economic, racial, and geographic divisions that often keep South Dakotans at an arms distance from one another.” According to one Native fan in attendance at a recent game, “The Rush hockey games may be the only place in the state where 5,000 people can be seen cheering for Native athletes – all at the same time.”

It was during the third period while the students were enjoying an exciting game that the harassment and assault started.  The adults in a private box above their seats began to taunt the students and their chaperones with racial slurs. They also threw beer on the students. The chaperones escorted the students from the game early. Later authorities from Pine Ridge filed a formal complaint.

The Rapid City Journal reported that within days of the incident, a witness came forward to provide a perspective.  This witness, a man from Sturgis, SD; said he was seated 10 to 15 seats away from the American Horse School student group. The witness, a season ticket-holder said this student group was one of the best-behaved groups of young people he has seen in his years of attending games.

While too far away to hear what was happening, the witness said he saw two men in the skybox above the students “who seemed to be taking real pleasure in continuing the confrontation” with an adult member of the school group.

The group left before the game ended, leaving three empty rows. The witness said the men in the skybox “seemed to gloat over what they had accomplished in chasing the student group from the game” and handed out a number of beers to other fans in what the witness said appeared to be a “celebration.” He said several other people in the skybox “seemed extremely uncomfortable with what was going on.”

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

The Rapid City police department responded to the complaint lodged on behalf of the students and their adult chaperones with a reported 550 hours of interviews with more than 150 people. The result was the arrest of one man, from Phillip, SD, who was charged with disorderly conduct. In a recent court decision, it was determined that the man arrested will face only a fine and no time in jail – if found guilty by a judge. That decision left many people, including the city attorney for Rapid City, dissatisfied. Final disposition of this case is expected in August.

Issues regarding racial antagonism, including this one, continue to make national and international news.  Such incidents foster important heated debates.

The disposition of this incident as a legal matter is just one small, yet significant, part of the challenge. By all accounts these young people and the adults accompanying them were engaged in appropriately cheering on their team. It may be that the only thing that distinguished them from others in that part of the arena was being Native Americans. To be accosted verbally and otherwise just for being who they are is part of what they experience on a more regular basis than many of us would like to believe. The sensitivities of historic trauma and historic mistrust cannot be minimized or ignored.

The mayor of Rapid City, Sam Kooiker, has issued several statements regarding this issue expressing his concerns for improving race relations in the city and elsewhere in the region. Mayor Kooiker said, “I have said many times before and since this incident that improving race relations is an ongoing endeavor and I have appreciated the willingness and efforts of tribal officials and the support of many people, both Native and non-Native, to remain committed to that effort.  We cannot let the actions of one person derail those efforts, nor should we allow the incident to define the character, ideals and values of people in Rapid City and our region.”

Mayor Kooiker expressed hope for the future, “During my tenure as mayor, the City has produced a number of efforts to improve race relations in the community and moving forward, I remain committed to this effort.  Improving race relations is a constant goal, one that cannot be resolved in a day, week or month, but a commitment that must be ongoing and vigilant in its purpose.”

This incident should be of particular interest to all of us who work with children. In middle childhood and early adolescence, their developing brains are forming a framework for who they are becoming and how they will find their way in the world. These kids were attending school, participating in a positive way, and achieving academically. They should be welcomed with open arms and open minds. My research on this topic didn’t indicate whether the public address announcer recognized this group of achievers and they were cheered by the crowd so I’ll hope that happened too. It is most likely true that the abuse they experienced there was the result of only a few people. It’s up to the rest of us – each and every one of us-  to ensure that those few don’t have the loudest voices or the greatest impact. It’s as important now as it ever was.

Additional Information:

Rapid City Journal February 18, 2015:

Rapid City Journal July 24, 2015:



About Mark Freado

On behalf of Cal Farley's, I provide professional development training and organizational consultation to public and private organizations serving children, adolescents and families throughout the world.
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