A recent advertisement for Faith High School Rodeo Club’s “Slave/Branding Auction,” a fundraising event that includes a pancake supper and a pie auction, has caused backlash on social media, forcing it to be canceled.
The auction was scheduled for April 26 at the Legion Hall in Faith, which is near the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation.
The concept of a “slave auction” for fundraising purposes has existed in South Dakota since at least 2008, when the Belle Fourche School District held a slave auction fundraiser.
“A 'slave auction' offers a day's work from each of the active competitors. Club members are proud that most of them could handle about any chores from waiting tables to hauling hay or moving cattle. Club members also brought craft items they'd made for the auction,” the Butte County Post reported in a March 30, 2011 article about a BFHS Rodeo fundraiser.
Slave auction fundraisers have also been held for the Pierre/Fort Pierre High School Rodeo Club for over a decade. In 2018, a Capital Journal article noted that several years earlier an African American resident asked the club to change the name of the event, but the club decided to leave it as is because they could not decide on an alternative. The name was not meant to be derogatory, according to the club’s adviser.
The Rapid City Journal reached out Wednesday to the Faith School District. A receptionist said the fundraiser is not run by the school, rather the Rodeo Club. She added the event was not listed on the school calendar as a slave auction but as a “branding crew auction,” and she wasn’t sure on the event’s status.
The Journal attempted to reach the superintendent but received no response.
The South Dakota High School Rodeo Association said they don’t have any knowledge about the high school’s fundraising efforts and that rodeo clubs and schools are responsible for their own fundraising efforts.
Slave auctions are not unique to South Dakota, and are not limited to rodeo fundraising. In 2015 in Alaska, the NAACP complained about a slave auction fundraiser in Sitka for its volunteer fire department. The complaint caused organizers to change the name of the auction to “Alaska Day Auction.”