"People have asked me, 'Why did you take your kids there if you knew there was going to be drinking?' Our kids should be allowed to go anywhere."
This past weekend at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, a group of students from the American Horse School were harassed by a group of men sitting in a VIP booth above their seats. As Native activists and human beings, we have all addressed Eagle Sales, the company that owned the box and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center but I actually don't want to talk to faces hiding behind big names -- I want to dedicate this to the men sitting in those VIP seats.
I am an Oglala Lakota woman. On the same Saturday night that you drove to Rushmore to sit in good seats and watch a hockey game, I was back in Rapid City visiting friends and family. I came home to California to find the story about the hockey game lighting up my computer screen at work, in disbelief that something so cruel had happened within miles of where I was sitting with people I loved.
In our traditional way, children are sacred. In the American way, having a family is a priority. For those of us Natives who have committed to good lives and an understanding of our faith, we commit to that promise, to take care of our kids. Justin Poor Bear was one of the men that you provoked at the game. What he told me while I cried on the phone silently listening to his story was that for a lot of the fourth graders in their group, this was actually, their very first time seeing a hockey game. He told me that seeing their faces was incredible -- the lights, the noise, the mascot, everything was a new experience to them. An opportunity to see something they might fall in love with, something they might pursue for themselves, something that might become an important part of their lives.
"'Hey are you thirsty?' one of the guys said to one of our kids, spilling beer over the counter. "Hey you guys are from the Rez, get loud or go home."
All of you men had a first hockey game in your life. Maybe your dad was there. Maybe it was with friends. Did you have beer thrown on you by men who treated you like animals? Was there an adult there who would have defended you if that had happened? I have a really hard time believing that at 10 years old, this wouldn't have made you feel like the smallest person in the world.
Maybe they were from the reservation. But did you, men of the VIP booth, ever stop to think that maybe there were kids in that group raised in homes without alcohol? Later that night, there were parents waiting for a school bus, who picked up children smelling like beer. As a parent, can you imagine the worry that would cross your heart? You, as adults, might have chosen that life for yourselves -- drunk and feeling brave at a hockey game -- but as a fellow citizen of this country and as a citizen of the Oglala Lakota nation, I am asking you not to choose that life for our kids. It's not your choice and this past Saturday, it never should have been. The Rushmore Plaza is built on Native soil. I hope you have not forgotten this.
Are you fathers? Do you love your own children just as Justin does? The last memory Justin left me with of the evening was that the bus ride home was in silence. Those children, after you dumped beer on them, rode home without words. That was your decision, your choice. Alcohol is your life, not ours. I am asking you not to choose that life for our children.
Ultimately, I know that we as a nation will get past the time a group of cowardly men tried to break our kids spirits. Our cultural reemergence is strong. Our kids are learning our language. They look to a better future and a more tolerant world because people like Justin Poor Bear and the other chaperones that night protected their rights as citizens of their nations and citizens of this "land of the free and home of the brave." Those children have now learned what cowardice looks like, they have seen when intolerance rears its head, and with the faith of people in their lives, we will build them back up. Again, I ask you men, please don't choose a life for our children before their lives have even started. We don't want special privileges, we don't want reimbursement, we want justice. Justice for 57 kids who just wanted to watch a hockey game for the first time.