2017-09-07 / Voices

Keeping Rapid City Racism Off The Page


It’s been a week since I wrote about a young Native woman dying in South Dakota’s Rapid

City Regional Hospital under circumstances her family considers suspicious.

Once the story was printed tin this paper and aired to millions of listeners on National Native News Radio I posted it - as I do everything I write - on my Facebook page, my LinkedIn page, Twitter and at several other social media sites. Among them was the Rapid City Community Conversations page, which identifies itself as a group “dedicated to create a community that reflects our shared values”. A bit vague, but the inference is people of diverse backgrounds coming together to discuss issues that relate to and impact them all.

And since Rapid is “the” largest city in the western part of the state – where everyone from tiny town white resident to reservation tribal member visits for various needs – the “conversation” should include those demographics

The only problem there is that more often than not posts have nothing to do with Rapid City or the surrounding area…or even South Dakota.

Lots of notes about racism – but white versus black, not white versus Native.

That’s not to say that racism in any form or between any groups isn’t important or that stories about such incidents shouldn’t be shared far and wide. But it does seem to be a mask for the reality of life here in South Dakota. It’s also reminiscent of a conversation I had years back with Delta David Geier – conductor for the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra. The maestro was explaining how the Lakota Music Project – a traditional drum and singers performing with the orchestra - had come about.

Apparently, when Geir was new to the area and anxious to offer something that would reflect racial harmony for the then upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday he approached a prominent black businesswoman in Sioux Falls for advice. She told him, point blank, that if he wanted to address racism in South Dakota he needed to speak with and focus on Native Americans, adding that she’d been living in the state for years and had never experienced any racist behavior.

I don’t know how much her statement still holds true given the current atmosphere of racism across the country. But I do know that the number of Native Americans in Rapid City and the surrounding area far outweighs the number of black people here. Moreover, the two black women I know in Rapid (yes, I’m sure there are more, but…) have both advised me that their experiences over the years mirrored those of the black woman in Sioux Falls: “No racism against me. As for the Lakota people…”

So, this begs the question: Why are these so many postings on the Rapid City Community Conversations page that focus on out-of-state issues concerning blacks or Muslims or whomever and so few about anything to do with the city, the area, the state or…God forbid…race issues between whites and Native Americans?

“Well, Jim, that would be because we don’t have any race issues here. We’re all just nice, friendly people… smiling all the time. The only reason we started this page was to show how God-awful things are in other areas of the country. I mean…when’s the last time you saw local law enforcement pull over a black woman only to find she’s a state attorney?”

True. I can’t recall. But it may be because less than 1 percent of the population in Rapid City is black – as it is for the state.

The bottom line here is that there’s really no point in creating a page to discuss shared topics of concern in your town if you won’t admit that they even exist.

As for my posting about the accidental death of Cheyenne Rose Ponce at the hands of Rapid City Regional Hospital staff, I’ll consider that my initial attempt that came up without an area for comments because it was marked as “possible Spam” was simply a fluke in the system. My second posting did take and received….5 likes and a comment – or .3 percent of the page’s members.

That’s not exactly what I’d call an outpouring of concern over a young mother’s death. But scanning the page I notice that most postings don’t get more than a handful of acknowledgements. I wonder why that would be?

Oh, right. Everyone’s too busy making sure that racism doesn’t exist in Western South Dakota.

That explains why all the Lakota people are so content.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at

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