Protesters scaled the Dakota Mill and Grain Silo in downtown Rapid City and adorned it with an upside-down American flag emblazoned with the words “Land Back” on Sunday evening.
The "Fourth of You Lie" protest and march, spearheaded by NDN Collective on the Fourth of July, began at Halley Park with a tense conversation between protesters and the Rapid City Police Department to ensure the march would remain peaceful.
Organizers said the march was spiritual in focus and that they had no desire to cause violence. Dozens of people marched down Saint Joseph Street, waving flags representing tribal nations and Land Back, chanting and singing.
The RCPD closely monitored the march from beginning to end and blocked off the roads to allow the march to continue. But once the group reached the mill and grain building and the Hubbard Feed building, the South Dakota Highway Patrol and RCPD officers dressed in riot gear, armed with rubber bullets and dozens of zip ties surrounded the property and threatened anyone who left the sidewalk with arrest, as the buildings are private property.
The tension between law enforcement and the marchers originated partially because march organizers did not obtain an event permit from the city. They said they should not have to seek permission or pay a fee to hold an event on their ancestral homeland.
Police misconduct and brutality was also a focus of the march, underscored by a substantial police presence following the proceedings.
The march was intended to end at the Pennington County Courthouse and Jail, but instead continued down to the mill and grain building after a subsection of protesters broke off to hang up the flag. Marchers paused at the Courthouse, however, and held a prayer circle in solidarity with the Indigenous people behind bars.
The sound of prisoners’ knuckles banging on the thick glass of the narrow jail windows joined with the drums and the songs of the protesters as they continued around the public safety complex.
At the start of the march, Candi Brings Plenty, Indigenous justice organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, read a list of demands protesters wanted to see fulfilled.
Brings Plenty said the city of Rapid City needs to start by publicly acknowledge the harms colonization has brought to the Native American community; create a Native American Commission elected by the Native community; form an oversight committee by people who have been most negatively affected by the RCPD to coordinate culturally responsive community resources; release the police’s disciplinary records and make them public and for allegations of police brutality to be externally reviewed.
“Today has always been an open wound…because today is not the celebration of the Declaration of Independence. Because we are those merciless savages they warned you about," Brings Plenty said. "We are going to continue expressing our freedom of speech, we are going to walk with prayer and we’re going to remember every single one of those children who are being found across Turtle Island [on boarding school properties]."
Remembering the wrongs of the past and creating a better future was a common refrain among marchers.
Muffie Mousseau, a founding member of the Mniluzahan Creek Patrol, said they have been supporting Native causes since they moved back to the Rapid City area with their wife in 2016. Mousseau, who is Two-spirit, grew up in Rapid City and said they experienced racism every day. It hasn’t gotten much better in the intervening years, they said.
“We’re always going to fight the fight. We want equality and equity for all people, we want racial profiling to stop, the racism, the discrimination," Mousseau said. "You can’t right a big wrong, but…the Caucasian community needs to show respect to the Natives because we were here before anybody. And they need to start respecting us as human beings, which they don’t."
Mousseau said in a speech to the crowd that events like the march could be repeated over and over until the message gets across.
“We could do this every day. We can stand up and resist all that which takes away from our future, because there’s a lot of institutions that want to take away from our future. And I don’t want to see that happen,” they said.
Miana Faye attended the march with family to raise awareness about struggles Indigenous people face both today and in the past, from genocide to meth addiction.
“I just hope we can all learn to lean on each other a little bit more, bettering ourselves and bettering our community together,” she said.