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Kevin Woster

Kevin Woster

It’s funny how quickly you can get invested in something if you’re personally involved.

Take me and the Native American Day Parade, the one held in downtown Rapid City two days before Native American Day, in conjunction with the Black Hills Powwow.

It’s a good thing, that parade. I’ve watched it. I’ve enjoyed it. But I’ve never been in it. Not until this year. Which you could argue made sense, since I’m not exactly, well, Native American.

One glance tells you what I am: an old white guy. And I felt like an old white guy during the first block or so of the parade, marching along in my blaze-orange hunting attire behind a banner that read: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

What do Moms and its efforts to reduce gun violence in this nation have to do with Native American culture? Well, what does gun violence have to do with any culture? Lots. And it’s a deadly lots.

So when our neighbor, Karen, and my wife, Mary, the two main Mom’s leaders in Rapid City, invited me to join them in the parade, it made sense. Good sense. Gun sense, which is all about gun safety and security and keeping guns away those who shouldn’t have them.

Still, I paused. I’m not much of a marcher, or a float builder, or a joiner. I’m a reporter. And among reporters, joining things you might cover is rightly frowned upon.

But in my semi-retired state of journalism, I’m more flexible — especially when properly motivated, which is something Mary can do.

So I marched, and I loved it. By the end of the first block, I felt part of the festivities and welcomed by the smiling, waving spectators, almost all of them Native. I noticed the near-total absence of white faces about midway through the parade. And it troubled me.

On a chilly but sunny Saturday morning, why would that be? I mulled it over for a day or two, then called parade coordinator Bruce Long Fox for his perspective. He was predictably measured in his response.

“I don’t want to think that it’s racial attitudes. I just think it’s a matter of knowing about it,” Long Fox said. “It’s a matter of information and education, I think. I’ll take the high road and take that position rather than saying it’s racially motivated.”

Which is not to say that racism is entirely absent. Of course, it’s not.

“I do think there are some of those feelings, I guess. But I grew up here and accept some of that as a part of life here,” he said. “I would say that it’s a real small part, like 5 percent that are racist and the other 95 percent are just people going about their business. And you have to catch their attention.”

I can be a tough catch, Long Fox says. He’d like to see more supportive floats by non-Native groups in the parade, and more non-Native spectators. But with a volunteer team and limited budget, he relies mainly on news stories and free ads. Tim Giago and Native Sun News Today have been essential there. Long Fox also appreciates plugs from other media and would welcome more.

Which prompted me to ask myself: What have I done to promote the parade? Sadly, little or nothing.

But I’ll do more next year, with my words in advance of the parade and with my feet during it. Please, make a note to join us. It’s an inspiring display of traditional Native American garb and song and drumbeats, a sharing of the rich Native culture that is open and welcoming to all.

And be sure to watch for the old white guy in the blaze-orange hunting coat. He might have a piece of candy for you.

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Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing kevinwoster@rushmore.com.

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