In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
… Down to a sunless sea.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1797
The Rapid City equivalent to “a stately pleasure-dome” is the downtown Civic Center, where Rapid Creek runs to a sun-drenched plain. Beneath the Civic Center’s dome, pleasures include renowned speakers and performers, off-Broadway plays, rodeos, monster truck contests, and sporting events.
Including hockey. Especially hockey. Over the years, semi-pro basketball, arena football and pro hockey have all had a go at the Civic Center with varying success. None gained resounding acclaim until the Rush came to town. Rush fans routinely flock to home games at well over 4,000 attendees.
One a recent Saturday night, too much pleasure imbibed raised an old community spectre: Indian/White relations. With a March 10 vote on a Civic Center expansion from 6,000 to 16,000 seats mere weeks hence, controversy is the last thing city officials and Civic Center executives want. Alas, add controversy to the scale.
Their tickets purchased months in advance, 57 Oglala Lakota children, aged 9 to 13, journeyed by bus nearly 150 miles from Pine Ridge Reservation’s Pass Creek Community to enjoy some well-earned fruit of their academic labors. Accompanied by eight American Horse School employees, including lead chaperone Consuelo Means, the kids took their usual spot in Section Q of the arena. For Means, it was her fifth student trip to a Rush game.
Facts not in dispute: For roughly 15 minutes, beginning during the second intermission, at least three adult males, exceedingly inebriated, verbally harassed the students. Drunken comments, racially insensitive and derogatory, were capped off with overturned beers on the students’ heads.
After a command decision, Means had the other chaperones gather the children outside the venue and called for the buses. Their safety assured, Means and fellow chaperone Justin Poor Bear began a 20-minute search for a security official to lodge a formal complaint. Near the main concession stand, they located what looked to be a support staff member, who contacted security.
Unheard after their departure was the wave of derisive cheers and gleeful self-congratulations by the drunkards in the Eagle Sales of the Black Hills skybox. That old dragon, racism, flicked its self-satisfied tail above the crowd of 4,000 without apparent shame—and without apparent consequences.
Throughout their search, neither Means nor Poor Bear were able to encounter anyone from the Rapid City Police Deptartment. When a security official did arrive, he had Means and Poor Bear step into what looked to be a “storage and supply room.” There Means filled out an incident report and provided contact information. Believing, in good faith, that she had discharged her duty, she returned to the children and boarded the bus.
“The ride back was really sad. Usually the kids are excited from the game…but it was a very quiet ride back.” The two girls that received the brunt of the spilled beer were crying. Riding with her own two children as well, Means fought back her rage. “I started to cry, something I never wanted to do in front of the kids. But I was just so mad.”
For the past five years, going to the Rush Hockey game has been a very big deal. “It’s an academic incentive,” said the 5th grade teacher’s aide. “They work really hard to be able to go.”
Albert Sharp, eight-term school board president said, “Our kids were well behaved—that says a lot for them. They didn’t deserve what happened. Now we deal with the consequences—but they’ll never have what they had before, no matter how hard we try.”
School superintendent Dr. Gloria Coats-Kitsopoulos echoed the same: “We’ve worked so hard to tell our kids you can be anything you want to be, you can do anything you want to do. They believe us. When they marched out of that Civic Center their self-esteem was assaulted.”
Sharp, Coats-Kitsopoulos, Means, and several others had the same question: Why is there not a non-alcohol section in the Civic Center for children and their families? “I’ve lived from D.C. to Honolulu on down to Texas,” said Coats-Kitsopoulos. “There’s always a section set aside for non-alcohol. We on the reservation use that arena as much as anyone, and I’m sure a lot of non-Native people don’t want to sit near people who are drinking either. It’s something you would do for the whole community.”
Jody Richards, an American Horse School teacher, and 21st Century program director said, “21st Century is a special afterschool program that can be used for summer activities as well. Ours is at least 85 percent academically oriented, with computer-based math and reading programs, along with homework mentoring and assistance.”
American Horse students who take part are very closely monitored for their academic progress. School administrators point to 21st Century as a welcome success in their efforts to raise student performance at the school. Since the annual trip to the Civic Center began, the prize of being able to attend brings a great deal of pride and excitement.
Richards said, “When we order the tickets, we get them a couple of months in advance so all the seats are together.” Although Richards attended the game with her husband, she did sit next to her students. About the skybox above, she said, “There were specifically three instigators, and one who did most of it. We could only see them when they were standing up. But (Eagle Sales of the Black Hills) knows. They have to know, or can easily find out.”
Several Lakota parents would also like to know why – given that Consuelo Means, an official of the school, filed a formal report to the Civic Center immediately following the incident – it took the Rapid City Police Dept. four days to open an investigation. Particularly since the story had been all over Rapid City media three days prior to the announcement.
Five full days after the incident, a closed-to-the-media meeting was held at the Civic Center. Present were members of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, Tribal Chairman John Steele, Mayor Kooiker, Rapid City Police Chief Jegeris, Civic Center Executive Director Craig Baltzer, and Eagles Sales of the Black Hills President Tom Heiland. Also in attendance, at the invitation of Pass Creek Tribal Councilman Ron Duke, were members of the American Horse School Board, Superintendent Coats-Kitsopoulos, and some family members of children who attended the game.
Justin Poor Bear, chaperone at the game, and a newly elected American Horse School Board member, said, “It’s a black eye for Rapid City.” Poor Bear recalled the officer-involved shooting death of a 30 year-old Lakota man, Alan Locke, in Rapid City two weeks ago. “They were pretty quick with their story of how that happened, but they don’t know what happened at the Civic Center after a week? Show me pictures of the guys, I’ll identify them.”
Suzanne White Lance, the school’s business manager, said her take on the meeting was that it felt as if the chaperones and children were being put on the spot and asked to justify their actions. Evidence to support her claim came when a charge surfaced on Thursday that the American Horse children provoked the inebriated adults by not standing for the National Anthem.
Her voice dripping with disdain, Superintendent Coats-Kitsopoulos quickly dismissed this anonymously sourced claim as a canard, “Oh, I get it, so it’s the kids’ fault.” When Means and Poor Bear were told of the national anthem claim, they flatly stated it was false.
And so it goes. With the vote for expansion nearing, many in South Dakota’s Native population strongly feel that Rapid City and Civic Center officials have a lot of explaining to do.
David Rooks is an Oglala Lakota, raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. A graduate of Red Cloud Indian School, David currently resides in Rapid City, SD, and has been a columnist with the Rapid City Journal for 18 years.