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Black Hills State University - Center for American Indian Studies

Historian Dr. Eric Zimmer will return to his alma mater Black Hills State University this week to discuss the decisions and land swaps which led to the consolidation of Rapid City’s Native American population into specific neighborhoods following the closure of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School. His talk with attorney Heather Dawn Thompson will be held Friday, October 18, from 1-3 p.m. in the Joy Center on the Black Hills State University campus in Spearfish. The event is free and open to the public. 

Thompson and Zimmer are part of a volunteer research team working to fulfill a request by Native elders in Rapid City, who asked for help locating the graves of children who died at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School. During their research, the team discovered a 1948 Congressional Act that divvied up the boarding school's property to different categories of people. 

“One of the provisions of that law was that some of the Boarding School land would be given for the use of ‘needy Indians,’ in the language of the day. But not an inch of the 1,200-acre parcel went to Native people,” said Zimmer. 

The property covers much of what is today western Rapid City, which also happens to include much of the city’s most valuable real estate. 

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During the talk October 18, Zimmer and Thompson will explore the series of municipal, school district, county, and federal decisions that consolidated Rapid City’s Native population into specific neighborhoods that have faced high degrees of socioeconomic disadvantage. 

Rochelle Zens, assistant director of the Center for American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University which is hosting the event, said, “This presentation will provide our community with a greater knowledge and understanding of the issues the urban Native community in Rapid City has faced historically, and how those events still continue to have an impact on Native individuals today.” 

Zimmer graduated from Black Hills State University in 2010 with a double major in history and political science. He was part of the University Honors Program and took classes in both Spearfish and Rapid City. Zimmer said when he first came to Black Hills State University he was unsure which professional path he would take, but that it was through the guidance and mentorship of Black Hills State University faculty members that he realized he could create a career in the field of history. Zimmer completed his Ph.D. in history at the University of Iowa and now works as a senior historian at Vantage Point Historical Services, Inc.

About the Center for American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University

The Center for American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University promotes awareness of American Indian cultures, values systems, and social problems among both Indian people themselves and members of the larger society. The Center administers the American Indian Studies major at Black Hills State University giving students a vivid understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the American Indians. Students are exposed to the Lakota language through this program, and through coursework and experience, students learn about tribal law as well as economic and government issues facing the American Indian people. Students are introduced to a wide variety of career opportunities on the reservations of South Dakota and across the U.S. 

For more information visit or contact Dr. Urla Marcus, director of the Center for American Indian Studies, at or 605-642-6578.