Fifty-seven Native American children were attending an minor league hockey game in Rapid City, South Dakota on January 24th — a reward for doing well at their reservation school. But the children and their chaperones left before the game was over after intoxicated Euro-Americans in a private corporate VIP box above them poured beer on the children, used racist slurs and demanded the children “go back to the reservation.”

I first heard of this incident reported on National Public Radio (NPR). It reminded me of being part of a Native American theater group that performed at all the reservation schools in South Dakota. It’s been the only time in my life where even though we had confirmed reservations, the South Dakota hotel would not give us our rooms because we were Native American.

As we observe the fiftieth anniversary of the Black civil rights movement. It’s often difficult in 2015 to fully understand what life was like for people of color more than two generations ago—not only the overt racism they faced but also the internalized racism people of color experienced. It would not have occurred to us as Native American people to directly confront the non-Native hotel manager or to call the police.

I keep seeing the parallels of what is currently playing out in Alabama as their state supreme court justice is doing his best George Wallace imitation to prevent federal intervention to recognize the civil rights of same-sex couples to marry. Overt homophobia is on display on a regular basis over these marriages. On one level, “pushback” from the privileged against those who have had their rights denied and who are regularly vilified by the privileged are different now. 

Historically there was a belief by both groups that nothing would change – this is just “how things are.” The NPR report pointed out the importance of current social media in allowing the voices of minority groups to immediately document discrimination and announce to the world. Historically, it’s unlikely this abuse of Native American children would have been publicized to the extent major media and the police would have been involved.

And now there has been a second incident of non-Native sports fans throwing beer on Native American patrons and an elderly Euro-American couple seated next to them. Here is a link to that story.

And here’s a video from a South Dakota television statement about the attack against the Native American children:

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