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Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Doesn't Like Indian Children: An Interview With Justin Poor Bear

Native American children were mocked and assaulted at a hockey game in Rapid City. If Rushmore Plaza Civic Center won't take action, Natives should.
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Fact #1: South Dakota’s Tribes faithfully give hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center during the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) Basketball Tournament in December, not even to mention other events at the Civic Center that Natives patronize. 

Fact #2: The Native families that come for the tournament circulate literally millions of dollars throughout Rapid City, from hotels in the area to food establishments, gas stations, etc. 

The LNI Tournament is a treasured family event that puts the Civic Center at the Center (see what I did there?) of the Lakota world for almost a week. 

Fact #3:  There are other facilities (or a combination of facilities) in the area that have the capacity to hold such a grand and important event. It would certainly take some planning, but there are undoubtedly other places that would love to realize the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Native families put into the coffers of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Fact #4: Some people committed a hate crime against little Native kids last week at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Hurling racial slurs against anybody is bad; doing it against little kids is a wholly different animal. And when it's a group of grown white men doing that to a group of little Native kids, and spilling beer on them, that’s the stuff of federal hate crime investigations or retaliatory shootings. 

Legally, spilling beer on someone is battery. It should be especially enforced if the battered person is a vulnerable child, as in this case.

'Winona and Faith' by John Isaiah Pepion,

Yet it didn’t even register a blip on the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s radar. The Civic Center has taken no corrective measures since those Native children were attacked physically and verbally. They’ve apologized, but without any action to ensure 1) full prosecution against the perpetrators of this hate crime, and 2) corrective measures as to how the Civic Center intends to prevent it from happening again, that apology is meaningless and empty.

RELATED:Suspects Who Hit Native American Kids With Racial Slurs, Beer Identified, Police Say

(In fact, there’s even been ANOTHER incident of a Native person having beers thrown at them, as Kristen Hunter and Davidica Little Spotted Horse were likewise attacked at the Extreme Bulls Tour Rodeo days after the attack on the little kids.) 

CONCLUSION BASED UPON THE FACTS: The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center doesn’t deserve to make one dollar from Native people. Neither does the Rapid City Journal—these two organizations are aiding and abetting a hate crime. I obviously cannot tell anybody what to do, but if I were advising Native people in South Dakota, I would say not to patronize the Civic Center to the tune of one single dollar until they 1) seek full prosecution of the perpetrators of these hate crimes, and 2) put security measures in to ensure that no one, of any color or race, has to endure these humiliating experiences. 

In short, if the Lakota Nation Invitational reflects the values and experiences of Lakota people, it would seem odd to continue to support a place that disrespects and dislikes Lakota people and hurts Lakota children. ANYONE who doesn’t like racism—Native and non-Native allies and non-racists—should boycott until the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center comes correct. Not only that, until the Rapid City Journal—which somehow found fit to excuse the hate crime that those precious Native kids experienced—commits itself to more objective/less racist reporting, no one should buy that rag or spend a dime on advertising. 

But that’s just me. 

Anyway, much more important than my opinion, I was fortunate to talk to one of the kids’ chaperones during this racist attack, Justin Poor Bear. He wanted to talk a bit about his experience. Justin was one of the adults who accompanied the kids to the game, witnessed the assaults, and has been victim of death threats since those assaults. But before we talk to Justin, I have to relay a message to the kids of American Horse School from many, many of my readers and also Facebook friends…

TO THE KIDS OF AMERICAN HORSE SCHOOL:Kids, we love you. We believe in you. Don’t let this incident make you bitter or confused—there are plenty of beautiful people of every single color out there. Some grown-ups are just dumb, and the people who did these horrible things are some of those dumb grown-ups. Sad. You’re beautiful and please don’t let these idiots get you down too much. 

Alright bro, please kinda just explain what happened. What was happening, what was being said?

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Justin Poor Bear: American Horse School went on an incentive trip for the students to Rapid City, SD on January 24th. I did go as a parent to help the students, it was my first time, and a lot of kids' first time, ever seeing a hockey game. Now the American Horse School has gone more than once to the games, and never had any problems there. 

When the third period came around, one the staff members came down the long row to where I was sitting. She then told me, "We need to get our kids out of here and leave now.” I asked her why, she said “ Those men”—she pointed to the suite right above us—“They just spilled beer on the kids asking the students if they were thirsty and started pouring beer on them and saying stuff like ‘get loud’ or ‘go back to the rez.’ They used racial words, as I got the students down the row, and went towards them I asked 'Who in the F threw alcohol at our kids? Show some respect; they’re some kids!'” 

As I looked at the suite two men were telling me to get up there in there suite so we could "get it on," fight. There were 15 or so of them in that suite, and I went with the students, not to fight. However we got the students together I and the other staff looked for a security person but there was not one to be found. I walked up to a lady at a small booth where she had a radio to dispatch. I asked her if she can call the head of security because we had a problem with a group in the suite; by that time there were two men who had “head of security” uniforms on. Those men took me and another staff member (who was crying) into another room and she was filling out the report of what happened. The security guys said they were going up there. Now I was thinking “if they bring these people down here to where the students there is going to be another problem again.” The security staff said they were going to look into it so we got onto the bus and left. The bus ride home is a one and a half hour drive and it was quiet, and no kids or staff spoke about what happened. 

Finally, when we got home, I got a whole bunch of phone calls phones from parents wondering what had happed and why their kids smell like beer.

Did you feel like there was anything that you or the children could have done differently where these adults wouldn’t have attacked you?

I don’t believe any of the students or staff did anything wrong to provoke this ugly attack

I recommend that the Civic Center not place any school group below the suites. If they don’t do that, they should place shields or glasses to prevent them from spilling beverages and install cameras. Right now, the Civic Center doesn’t have many security cameras there so they need to upgrade, and more security needs to be seen.

Did the Civic Center get the police involved? Did you want the police involved?

No, at the time we filed a complaint with the head of security there at the Rush hockey game. Rapid City issued a statement a couple days later saying there might be criminal charges,

In an ideal world, how would the Civic Center have responded? What do you ultimately want to happen out of this situation?

They need to ban those people for life! I felt like the Civic Center needs to support American Horse students and find justice. The Rapid City Rush as a hockey team should have a cultural diversity night; it will bring awareness to their fans as well.

We know, unfortunately, that the City of Rapid City doesn’t seem to take violence against Natives seriously. Did you expect something different from a business—the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center—that makes so much directly from Native people?

Why is it that when there are games like hockey, where alcohol is sold, there are only two police patrolling in or outside the building but when Natives are having the LNI Tournament there are well over 60 police in that building? And there is no alcohol sold during that event! Will our business affect Rapid City if LNI is moved? Of course it will! LNI and the Black Hills Pow Wow bring in well over 4 million dollars (to the Civic Center) during those events. So would the Civic Center be impacted if the Natives don’t support it and boycott the Civic Center? Of course it will.

Do you feel that Natives should continue to support this business until they do right by Native people?

I can’t tell other Natives what to do, but personally I will not go into the Civic Center or allow my kids into the Civic Center until I feel safe and equal and not be judged.

'Winona and Faith' by John Isaiah Pepion,

Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi