I had read a comment the other day by someone who said “racism was not important” and pretty much acted like it was non-existent. Now, I am not saying this to be racist, but the person that commented was white. And truth be told, you don’t ever feel racism when you’re white unless you are out of your element. Like my reservation, I once had a white boss who was stopped by the tribal police and given a ticket for speeding. He was going 90 in a 55, granted it was the middle of nowhere, but they called it a felony because he was speeding with intent to do deadly harm, or something like that. He fought it in tribal court and still had to pay about a thousand dollar ticket. I did laugh, even when he bitched and moaned about it, but when he said it was reverse racism because he was white, I stopped laughing. I said “Welcome to my world. If I had done that off the rez, I would be in jail.”

I live in the most racist state there is to be an American Indian, hands down. I never realized how racist it was until I moved away and wasn’t followed when I shopped.

To live in South Dakota, especially west of the Missouri River, near the Black Hills, and be an Indian is definitely a struggle. And I use the term “struggle” loosely, because I feel my ancestors knew what a real struggle was. Especially after being put on reservations. The way of life before that may have “looked like a struggle” to the white people who “settled” here because it wasn’t their way of life. The real struggle happened when Indians were forced into a way of life that wasn’t theirs. Especially after they defeated the U.S. Army at the Battle of Greasy Grass or what the government calls “The Little Big Horn Massacre”. Defending your own people when being attacked is not a massacre, it’s an ass kicking. And even though the whole 7th cavalry was wiped out in 1876 and their flag was taken in battle, to this day they still exist. Fourteen years after that ass kicking they massacred over 300 Lakota women, children, and men at Wounded Knee. I believe what I was taught, it was revenge.

After that the government forced a way of life on our people, they wanted providers who hunted to turn into farmers. They were given land to farm on that wasn’t fit for farming. Children were forced to speak another language, forced to go to boarding school where religion was forced on them, they were abused physically, emotionally, sexually…and this was supposed to be civilized and a better way of life?

To think that I have ancestors who had made it through that trauma and continued to carry on our ways of life and virtues shows me the strength in my people. There are also many others who had never recovered from the damage that was done to them. Some of that damage and anger carries on in the younger generations via historical trauma. Some people don’t think that historical trauma exists and that it is an excuse, yet these are the same people that hang flags on 9/11 and mourn. They love to tell you exactly where they were when that plane hit the first tower. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with honoring those who passed away that day, but there is no “getting over” a great tragedy. Especially when the tragedy happened to those you share DNA with. After all 9/11 is not the first time there were terrorist attacks on this soil. They had been happening for over 500 years.

So when I talk about racism in South Dakota, it is in no way comparable to what our ancestors had been through. But in this year 2012, it is alive and well. I never look for racism on purpose. I try to think maybe a librarian was having a bad day. Or that bus driver woke up with heart burn. Then when it’s apparent that racism has indeed showed it’s ugly face, I will speak up and demand my children be treated the same as others. I want my kids to know this and remember this about me, because I want them to know that it is not ok to let people continue to think it is fine to treat people different because of the color of their skin. (That is so stupid, anyway.) I know I have embarrassed my sons and sometimes they don’t want to tell me when something happened where they experienced racism but eventually they do, so maybe they really do want me to defend them. I just hope they do the same for their children someday, because if they don’t their grandmother will.

The first time I experienced it I was in the 1st grade. Up until that point in my life–all was ok. The most traumatic thing in my life was the fact that my parents divorced. It bothered me to have to split my time between my dad and my mom. Especially since my mom moved off the reservation and to the city to go to college.

The moment was in 1st grade, I was too young to know it was racism, but I knew it wasn’t right. I had started school at a white school, fresh off the reservation. I was looking forward to making friends. As soon as I walked in the classroom, I wondered if I was going to make friends. I was already shy, but the whole class was white.

I took my seat and the teacher made me come to the front of the classroom as she introduced me to the class. Some kids giggled at my last name and I wondered why they thought it was funny. I had thought some of their last names, when they introduced themselves to me sounded like a sneeze. I walked back to my desk and the class said the pledge of allegiance. As we were saying it I heard what the boy that sat next to me had said. I even remember his name-Greg.

He said, “Why did they have to put the Indian by me, everyone knows Indians stink. I don’t want to sit by no stinkin’ Indian.”

I remember my face turning hot as I turned to look at him because we were done saying the pledge. He was already at the teachers desk complaining about sitting by me.

I don’t remember how long I went to school there, it’s all kind of a blur. I do know it wasn’t long. I got my way after throwing a fit and moved back to the reservation to live with my Grandma.

What always stands out is remembering how someone hated me at age 6 because of who I am. Not even who I am as a person, but who I am based on my skin color. And this was another 6 year old. When I grew up and looked back on that, I realized he learned it at home. How in the world would a 6 year old child have such pre-concieved notions of another race? Sometimes I wonder about him, wonder how deep that hatred festered in him. Back in 1980, I was the only Indian in a class of about 30. When I moved back years later and my two oldest boys went to school there in kindergarten, they had a class of 31 and 26 were Indians, 2 were Mexican, 2 were black, and one boy was white.

I remember I let myself for a split second think that what if that one white boy was Greg’s son and hoping Greg knew how it felt by that fact. Then I thought, “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

Here I was, letting myself think stupid shit like that when here was a beautiful classroom of color and these kids didn’t know these thoughts. These kids had it right, for the time being. They didn’t give a shit like their parents did. I remember being like that until events unfolded in my own life to not trust.

But that’s how children are. Children usually always have it right because they have no prejudices until they are taught. The rest of the state of South Dakota is messed up. From the media to the social services to the police. You can ask any one Native here if they have ever dealt with racism in this state, and they will tell you they have. Albeit, not everyone is innocent, especially me. But to say I have dealt with racism in this state one or a couple of times would be far from the truth. To say one or a couple hundred times would be closer to the truth, but it would likely be more than that. If you think about it starting at age six and living in this state for the most part of my life, it is easily more than a couple hundred. I wouldn’t even be able to count.

Racism is not always huge and in your face, but you feel it like a pebble in your shoe. You see it daily in the media. It definitely exists in South Dakota. Which by all rights, half the state should belong to the Lakota.

The U.S. Government broke the 1868 Ft Laramie treaty by stealing our sacred Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, because of the gold found there. Then had the nerve to try and buy us out in this lawsuit by offering a settlement.

It took some growing up on my end to realize why we were so defiant to not “sell out” and take the money. As Lakota that is not who we are and the Paha Sapa are sacred to us. Money is not sacred to us like it is to some people. Our ancestors fought fr this land and the way of life, gave blood even. To us, the Black Hills are the center of the Universe. No scientist in the whole world can tell me that’s not true, because I believe that with my whole heart. And to me, it’s true.

And I can feel it when I drive through. Even though it is the biggest tourist trap there is. They have mined the hell out of our sacred land and took it for all its worth and the put up tourist traps that don’t make sense. Places that sell taffy, fudge, and Made in China bead-work. Places with reptiles and sharks and Scandinavian villages. The biggest insult to us is Mt Rushmore. Every one of those presidents had crimes against Indians.

No matter how much gold they took from the Black Hills, or how much money they make from the Black Hills, they are still sacred to us, because that never mattered in the first place. And no matter how much money the government offers for our people to go quietly away, it won’t happen. We will never sell out and we will continue to let people know why.

And I think maybe that is why racism is so thick in this state towards us. I am not saying any person who is not Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota is a racist here. I have friends who aren’t and are cool. I am treated good by way more people on a daily basis than not. Maybe I don’t experience it on a daily basis, maybe it’s only weekly. But to think how the one experience with my old boss wit “reverse racism” traumatized him, he would not walk a half a mile in my shoes on any day.

I believe the people in this state who are racist towards us, and act like they’re not, know deep down in their soul why they are. The same way that deep down in every soul of every person in the Great Lakota-Dakota-Nakota Nation that experienced racism in this state know why they’ve experienced it.

Because the sacred Paha Sapa belong to us, and they were stolen.

‎”Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Lakota? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” -Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota

  • Reggie

    Excellent excellent post Dana Lone Hill.  I really enjoyed reading this and getting a look inside your life.  I found this very very interesting.

    I think that racism permeates the American society the way spot are all over a leopard’s hide, the way stink is on shit.  While we may not have invented racism or bias, we’ve certainly perfected it.

    The problem with racism is that most Americans don’t believe that they are negatively impacted by it since they are the majority race.  But one day, 40 years from now they probably won’t be; and hopefully, I’ll live long enough to see exactly what they do about that.  I wonder if “racism” will exist for them then?!?

    As a man of color, I’ve been discriminated against numerous times……..without apology.  It’s sad, but some people feel it’s their right to discriminate.   Maybe it is, in fact, the American way?!?  It sure as hell seems like it.

  • Sad isn’t it.  My Great Grandpa Pete said one day there will be a shade of tan.  I hope I see it too.  I know the guys in my tribe are working on that shade of tan outside the reservation. 🙂

  • Agent3189

    This was very refreshing to hear. I have never heard a first person account like this one. when it comes to being native american. and not just lik the millions of blacks and whites that claim to be part native american. 

  • Anonymous

    I grew up outside the reservation, but I’ve always tried to keep in touch with affairs in indian country. I’ve had a few fellow natives who shared their stories with me, and having my own experiences growing up – I have African,  and Taino Boriken heritage also – I feel the same in some ways toward some of the whites I see. This country romanticizes native culture so much that we’re rendered monolithic and ahistorical; in a way, it works for them, because not being able to see us as modern allows them to have a clear conscience and ignore the privileges they have due to our people’s suffering. It’s so patronizing that it makes me sick.

    When I heard about the gov’t’s recent attempt to buy out the Sioux, I wasn’t surprised given their depravity. They’re obsessed with avoiding any accountability whatsoever, and as you’ve shown, love using vague and sensational terms to misinform those who aren’t aware of our people’s struggles. I remember growing up in classes thinking of my Carib ancestors who were murdered and declared savages by the people this country has holidays for, as teachers lectured on about the Conquistadores like the Conquest was an inspirational Disney film. I have to say, it was a feeling of anger and upset that I doubt I could ever truly express with words, and I think this institutional ignorance only worsens the divide and hope for any realistic racial discourse.

  • X Mission

    Dana, growing up in Mission South Dakota you left a lot out about the fact there is very real reverse racism on the reservation that leads to a LOT of the feelings that others have about Natives.  Try being part native that appears white and grow up being kicked, stomped and beaten by your own people for simply being “to light”.  No offense, but I’ve moved away and glad.

    Yes the U.S. government has stolen everything from us, but you also leave out the fact that we still choose to take everything they offer us free homes, free food, free everything including education and new schools that “WE” allow to be completely destroyed in no time at all.  Sorry, we are as guilty for the misconception of us than anyone.  When you have people taking food and pawning it off so that they can be drunk in towns within hitch hiking distance for months at a time, we aren’t exactly improving relations and perceptions.
    Lets not also forget the fact that our own people screw our own people out of things, Rose Bud Casino ring a bell?  Fact is the sooner we decided to be what we are and thats is proud people regardless who is to blame we will be better off. Frankly my wife being of Danish decent is great.  We teach all of our heritage to our children and we are proud of all our history.  But we surely don’t sugarcoat it, and don’t blanket blame any race, not ever as you state it “white” people.  At this point they are just as ignorant as most of our own and the sooner we move on and over come together the better.  I’m just not into pity parties and handouts or anything from the government.  I’ve made my way, paid my entire way and won’t stop now.  I suggest more try that route.  There is no excuse…….

    So yes, South Dakota the most racist state?  I agree and we are just as guilty.

  • racism is abundant in south dakota, but it’s not just against the natives.  White ppl here are racist against pretty much any race, and i am not saying all. The young ppl for the most part are pretty non racist, but the middle aged white men, and the old ones, they have deep and very strong racist mindsets.  Unfortunately most of them are in management positions in town, and they make it hard for any minority to keep a decent job, or make a decent living.  Some are pretty open about their prejudices, but most keep it on the downlow.  For me, i am Filipino and Southern Italian Sicilian mix, and most ppl think i look mexican.  And there is a strong anti mexican sentiment amongst alot of the older white ppl here, primarily because they hear so much about hispanics “taking over” the southwest US.  So I get that racism as well, and i even met a an old white guy who was from NY and hated “Italians”.  Which I am half.  smfh.  Ppl need to grow up and quit judging an entire group of ppl.  For crying out loud I swear ppl are soo stupid.  

  • slolwayesni

    I have family in Manderson-White Horse Creek area. I hear about racism that still exists in SD… and even was shown a neon sign that was hung in a bar that said no indians or dogs allowed. Until this is shown people don’t think it still exists…

  • Oh yea,the poor native. Everyone is against you. It’s really a tough life isn’t it? Free health care,food stamps, welfare checks,land checks, Cobell money, zero interest loans,next to free housing, fuel assistance, the free-bee jobs( IHS, Tribal) and on and on, No one people have had so much given to them and pissed it down their leg than the American Indian. Yet they continue to blame the White man for everything. I think it’s about time for the Native to take responsibility for their own actions, or lack of. When you teach your children that everything is owed to them, they will grow up with the same mindset as you. Instead of constantly complaining,how about taking some responsibility for your own well being and welfare, try and break the chain of blame and the “I can’t attitude, the feel sorry for us mentality. You’ll never know if you don’t ever try.

  • And X Mission summed it up as good as anyone I’ve ever heard. Nice comment and very trustful.