Imagine you’re twelve years old again on a school field trip. Now imagine you’re covered in beer and have just become the target of a group of men’s racial slurs. Well, that’s what happened to a group of 9 to 13 year olds in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Jan. 24, 2015.

Since then, more reports of racism in the Rapid City area have come forth. It’s appearing that our nation is more racist than we thought.

We have more work to do than we thought we did. And it’s time we start working for justice — and not just with a single tweet.

On Jan. 24, it was reported that 57 students from the American Horse School in Allen attended a minor league hockey game at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. All the students were members of the Native American Oglala Lakota tribe. They were awarded the field trip for their good behavior in school and academic success.

Unfortunately, during the third period two non-Native men seated above in the VIP section started to allegedly shout racial slurs, throw beer and a frisbee at the students and their chaperones below. According to the news outlet, Al Jazeera America’s Massoud Hayoun, the men even called the students and chaperones to “engage in face-to-face confrontation” and told them to “go back to the rez.” The students were eventually escorted out by their chaperones before the hockey game had ended.

To make matters worse, Rapid City’s local newspaper, the Rapid City Journal, published an article in the weekend paper soon after the incident with the headline, “Did Native Students stand for national anthem?,” as if to pour salt in the students’ wounds. The article’s headline itself alleged that the students angered the spectators becuase of their own actions and thus deserved what they received. The outrage against the story’s headline spread like wildfire. Many were outraged that the article was a picture perfect example of victim blaming and racism and I could not agree more.

The chaperones and other spectators report all the students stood. Had the students not stood for the national anthem, the outrage against them shown by the men would still be considered undeserving in my opinion. They have the choice in America, as granted by their Freedom of Speech, to decide whether or not to stand for the country’s anthem. That is no reason to subject an innocent person to a hate crime or child abuse.

That following Monday, the editor of the Rapid City Journal, Bart Pfankuch, released a statement after receiving criticism for the article. In the statement, he apologizes and acknowledges that the article could be interpreted as victim blaming. However, a chaperone and school board member, Justin Poor Bear, stated, “We don’t want an apology. We don’t want free tickets to a hockey game. We want justice.”

The incident was reported to the event staff at the sporting event as well as the Rapid City Police Department and on social media. Al Jazeera America stated the police have since started an investigation but have not decided if criminal charges should be filed.

A Twitter campaign mirroring the Twitter campaign, #BlackLivesMatter, began that night. The hashtag, #NativeLivesMatter, allowed the incident to become nationwide. People starting utilizing social media to organize rallies and protests in reaction to the incident. And it worked. Hundreds of people gathered outside the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to call for justice and to keep the pressure on the city leaders and police.

The incident has since caused others to come forward and report three more alleged racist incidents in Rapid City, which has only raised the racial tensions between Native and non-Native residents.

According to National Public Radio’s Charles Michael Ray, the incident added to the racial tension already present in Rapid City as a result of a police shooting of a Native American man in December.

The incident at the hockey game and the recent campaign for Native Americans only continues to shed light on the “pattern of troubled race relations” in Rapid City and other regions of South Dakota. If we are to be honest with ourselves, this racism has been going on since the white settlement in the 19th century and simply hasn’t stopped since.

It’s time we utilize social media to bring attention to the injustices still occurring in America. And not just a hashtag — I mean a fully loaded social media movement.

Taylor Howe can be contacted at

Share and Enjoy !