Rapid City leaders, Native Elders discussing plan for Native American boarding school land

RAPID CITY, S.D. — In the 1940s, Native American Boarding Schools were a federal government project.

The purpose of the schools: to assimilate Native Americans and take on the “white ways of living”.

Assimilation included preventing them from speaking their language, making them cut their hair, changing how they dressed and much more.

Once the boarding school was abolished around the 1950s, a law was put into to place, which allowed the 1,200 acres of boarding school land to be given to the City of Rapid City, Rapid City School Board, and the State of South Dakota.

“All of these entities got land for free in a direct exchange from the federal government,” said Dr. Eric Zimmer, a Historian. “The caveat being that if the land is ever used for something other than what it was intended for, then it would revert back to the ownership of the Department of the Interior.”

While the land was set to be used for municipal projects, school, and state priorities, there were two exceptions. Church leaders were able to purchase sections of the land, and some Native American families, were able to live on the land, depending on their financial circumstances, but they were not given as much land as other organizations, nor were they given the same resources.

“That’s where we lived and there was always a certain level of hunger, a certain level of discomfort due to the cold or the heat, but we consider ourselves resilient because we are and so that type of discomfort was just part of life,” said Beverly Warne, of the Rapid City Council of Elders.

Being that a majority of the land was either freely given to larger organizations or purchased, many Native Americans were at a disadvantage. As years have passed, groups like the Rapid City Elders have advocated for equality and for authority over the land which was once the boarding school.

A four-part plan as to how the city and native leaders could move forward is set to be released as soon as Wednesday.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News