In its second of a series of forums on racism, a diverse crowd of about 125 people - including school board members, teachers, churches, county and city law enforcement officers, military personnel, homemakers, families, college and high school students and community members - gathered to find solutions to an age-old problem in Rapid City.

The Society for the Advancement of Native Interests-Today drew even more people than its first meeting at its Thursday session at General Beadle Elementary School.

SANI-T launched a series of meetings in response to news last month of teenagers shooting BB pellets at Native American pedestrians.

Panelists Daphne Richards-Cook, a Rapid City school board member, Jordin Bordeaux-Morris, a high school student representative, Teresa Koneckne, a South Dakota filmmaker, Peter Wharton, Rapid City Area Schools superintendent, Ailine Maea, an Oglala Lakota College student representative, and Sam Kooiker, a member of the city council, all spoke briefly about racism, their encounters with it and offered solutions that might bring about change.

All agreed racism exists in Rapid City.

Then, rather than talking about the problem, SANI-T organizers posed the question to the audience of how to unite a community. The crowd broke into nine work groups to discuss ways to break down cultural barriers.

Some of the solutions included creating cultural exchange programs, especially between Rapid City and tribal schools on nearby reservations; focusing on education, including continuing adult education, cultural awareness for law enforcement, required Lakota culture classes for all high school students and educating the schools and the public about poverty; church presentations and monthly forums; asking the mayor's office to establish a Native American Advocacy Desk in the police department; improving communication; establishing a Native American or cultural center; and creating a treatment center with a cultural focus for Native American youths.

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Kooiker encouraged Native Americans to accept positions on boards, commissions and committees and to run for public office at every opportunity.

"It is not good for the community when people run unopposed," he said.

He said that after the 2010 census, the city will go through redistricting.

"Which has been a train wreck. The area of North Rapid just north of the civic center that is heavily populated by Native Americans … is represented by a west-side representative," Kooiker said.

Redistricting will offer new opportunities for Native American leadership on the city council and in the school district, but organization will be needed for a diverse commission to redraw the district.

"It's important to get involved," he said.

Contact Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or jomay.steen@rapidcityjournal.com.

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