At one point early in 2015, Bryan Brewer, founder and director of the Lakota Nation Invitational, was looking elsewhere in South Dakota for a site for the athletic, educational and cultural event that had been in Rapid City since its birth.
But the 39th LNI returned here despite accusations of racism toward Native Americans, and on Saturday Brewer told a breakfast crowd of about 20 people that reconciliation won out over relocation.
“We are here to stay," Brewer said to the gathering of educators and community leaders at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, where the LNI had been underway most of the week. "We don’t think we should run from problems. We’ve been here for 37 years fighting problems. Why would we run now? ... Things are changing, but we have to keep working. We have to stand up.”
The breakfast was technically not a part of the 39th LNI, which ended Saturday night at the civic center; rather, it was the latest in what its organizers, whose group is Rapid City Community Conversations, call candid discussions of the tension between Native American and non-Native people in Rapid City.
But having Saturday's conversation during LNI was deliberate, according to organizers, with the intent of welcoming the thousands of LNI participants to the city. LNI has grown into a major community event, but as Brewer explained, getting to that point didn’t happen overnight.
“We used to sneak into Rapid City as quiet as we could,” Brewer said of the early days of LNI. “We’d play our games and get out.”
Brewer remembered times not long ago when South Dakota Highway Patrol troopers would stake out the borders of town during Native American athletic events and how the teams were barred from eating at certain restaurants.
“It was very difficult to come up here,” Brewer said. “But each problem we had, we dealt with. We didn’t ask the tribe for help, no one. We sat down, and we dealt with our issues.”
Relationships have improved, Brewer said, but racism remains a problem in Rapid City. The January incident in which beer was spilled on some Native American students at a Rapid City Rush hockey game stands as an example of the healing that remains to be done between the cultures, Brewer said.
Anger over the incident kindled talk of moving the LNI to Sioux Falls, but in the end, Brewer said the desire for reconciliation won out.
Several other community leaders spoke about the ongoing work to bridge the rifts between the Native American and non-Native communities in Rapid City.
LeMoine LaPointe, one of the organizers of the community conversations, said bridging those rifts can be accomplished through clear and honest communication.
“We stress being positive,” LaPointe said. “We don’t want anyone standing on their soap box. We don’t want anyone pointing fingers. There is a positivity inside all of us, and that’s the innate nature we want to call upon.”
The Rapid City Community Conversations is a volunteer organization started last February to foster better relationships across cultures in Rapid City. The group has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the costs of the events. Donations can be made on the website at gofundme.com/rcconversations.