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City committee to consider resolution calling for land swap with Native community
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City committee to consider resolution calling for land swap with Native community

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A Rapid City committee will consider Wednesday a resolution calling for the city to work with the Native American community on a land swap, cultural center and funding mechanisms while addressing what researchers say are three illegal parcels on the old Indian Boarding School land.

The land swap could prevent the federal government taking over the parcels occupied by Monument Health’s Behavioral Health Center, the Westside Village senior living community, and the Canyon Lake Activity Center, according to the resolution before the Legal and Finance Committee. The takeover could happen due to a 1948 law that outlined how the 1,200-acres of old boarding school land could be used.

The law regulating use of the old boarding school lands

The 1948 federal law regulating use of the old Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands.

But “all parties prefer a creative solution rooted in a land exchange that could allow the current occupants of (the parcels) to remain on that land,” the resolution says. The swap would also address inequities and “honor 70 years of Native community requests for use of the lands” after none of it went to them.

The idea for a “creative solution” was mentioned in a July 2017 letter by the Bureau of Indian Affairs — which owned the old boarding school land — sent to the Rapid City mayor, superintendent of Rapid City Area Schools, and the leaders of the Oglala, Rosebud and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes.

The letter said the three parcels deeded to the Rapid City government and school district but being used by the three nonprofits could be returned to agency since “they are no longer being utilized for the deeded purpose.”

If the resolution passes, the council and Mayor Steve Allender will work with the Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands Project and greater Native American community over the next six months to create a plan that entails land exchanges and financial investments equal to $20 million. That number represents the value the land and buildings of the three parcels. 

Allender and the council would ask the school district, hospital, senior living community and activity center for help securing financial and other assistance related to the land exchange. The plan would be sent to the BIA so it could approve the exchange and allow the three nonprofits to receive clean property titles.

The plan will also focus on creating a Rapid City Native American community center and development corporation. The corporation would fund the community center so it doesn’t have to rely on grants or government money.

The resolution was introduced by the Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands Project, a group of volunteers who have researched and educated the public about the children who died at the school and what happened to the property. The group is now focused on remembering and rectifying past harms by fundraising for a memorial park and tackling the land issue.

The group asked community members between 2017 and 2019 how they’d like to address the land issue, what they would want the land to be used for, and how they would fund the project, the resolution says. Seventy-six percent of polled community members listed a community center as their first or second choice and said it should be funded by a corporation that generates revenue through housing, a hotel and convention center, and Native American tourism, arts or a museum.

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The history

Most of the five-page resolution focuses on the history uncovered by the Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands Project:

The boarding school was operated by the BIA from 1898 to 1933 on land that now consists of the Sioux San/Oyate Health Center campus and surrounding areas in west Rapid.

Most students were Lakota who came from the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River reservations. Once there, they were forced to assimilate to white culture and not allowed to practice their own.

Many families moved to Rapid City to be near their children, and their descendants now make up the city's current Native American population. 

The Rapid City government, school district, chamber of commerce, churches and the National Guard lobbied Congress for the 1,200 acres after the school closed. Congress passed the 1948 law that says the land could be sold to churches, used for "needy Indians," or given to the city, school district and National Guard. None of the land went to Native Americans until 2017.

The land that went to the city, school and Guard are subject to a reversion clause that says the land must be returned to the BIA when it was no longer being used for city, educational or Guard purposes.

Despite the law, the school district received a parcel in 1964 and transferred it to the activity center in 2005 via a quit claim deed. Rapid City obtained two parcels in 1949 that were eventually turned over to Monument Health and Clarkson Health, which runs Westside Village. The resolution does not say how or when the city land was transferred.

These three parcels could be returned to the BIA and made into a Native American community center, assisted living facility and health treatment facility but Monument Health, Clarkson Health and the activity center say this “would cause them great expense and inconvenience.”

The only alternative to the reversion clause would be to exchange the boarding school lands for other land that would be used for the Native American community.

All parties now prefer this “creative solution” over reverting the land to the BIA, the resolution says.

The Legal and Finance committee will meet at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. If the resolution is approved it will be heard before the City Council on Nov. 2. 

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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