02/01/2015 02:43 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2015

A Racial Incident at a Hockey Game

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Native Sun News

The ironies of the racial incident at the Rush hockey game at the Rapid City Civic Center are numerous.

First of all it was a case of "drunken white men" shouting racial slurs and spraying beer on a group of students from the American Horse School located on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Second the children were at the game because they were being recognized and rewarded for their good grades and good conduct. And since there are Native Americans on the Rush team the children take a special interest in the team. These Native hockey players are held up as examples of success by the students.

And so ironically those white fans racially demeaning the Indian students still hold the Indian hockey players on the team in high esteem. Go figure.

Once again, ironically, in January of 2015, instead of reverting to the racism of the 20th Century, these fans and all South Dakotans should have been celebrating and commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Year of Reconciliation that was proclaimed in 1990 by Governor George Mickelson.

It all started with an interview. I met with the governor in Pierre in 1989 and in the midst of the interview I asked him what the toughest part of his job entailed. He replied, "I am going to give you the same answer my father gave me when I asked him the same question 40 years ago: The bad relations between Indians and whites." I saw in the governor a man who really wanted to solve a century long problem and so with this in mind I wrote an editorial challenging him to honor the victims of the massacre at Wounded Knee by proclaiming 1990 as a Year of Reconciliation.

Ironically 1990 marked the 100th Anniversary of the massacre and Birgil Kills Straight and Alex White Plume were leading a group of riders that would soon be known as the Big Foot Riders in honor of Chief Big Foot who was killed at Wounded Knee to the gravesite where a "Wiping Away the Tears" ceremony would be held as they prayed for peace and forgiveness. The governor took up the challenged and named 1990 as the Year of Reconciliation.

What did the Year of Reconciliation mean to the children from American Horse School? It was probably the first time in their lives that they ever experienced racial prejudice. They go to school and live in reservation communities where 95 percent of the people they meet every day are Native American. So when they entered an arena where the majority of the people are white they found it hard to understand why they were singled out for being different.

As some reservation teachers have pointed out to me, what would have been the results if the private box owned by a beer company had been occupied with Native American men and the seats below them were filled with white children?

Every Native American in South Dakota knows what would have happened had the situation been reversed. Every Indian in that private box would have been arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail. That didn't happen to the white provocateurs and there is not an Indian in Rapid City who expected it would.

Governor George Mickelson and I had a dream much in the manner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also dreamed as Dr. King did that one day Indian children would live in a state where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In 1990 it was a noble dream.

During those 25 years "Reconciliation" has been set aside and even ridiculed, but back then we believed, "Nothing ventured; nothing gained." What did we have to lose?

There have been recurrent racial incidents during these years and wiser heads have managed to step up and bring calmness to the situation. There are more doors open now to Native Americans than there were 25 years ago and I hope that in honor of Governor Mickelson that his proclamation of reconciliation played into it.

When the governor died in that tragic plane crash in 1993 the torch of reconciliation was passed to me and now as I approach my eighty first birthday I would like to pass that torch to a new generation of South Dakotans, white and red, to honor our dreams and renew the promises of reconciliation so that racial incidents that occurred in Rapid City at a hockey game become the exception rather than the rule and these happenings are erased forever from the hearts and minds of all South Dakotans.

(Tim Giago can be reached at