August 29, 2010

Event seen as a step toward improving race relations in South Dakota

Event seen as a step toward improving race relations in South Dakota
Jomay Steen, Rapid City Journal staff
Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010

Madison Beyer of Whitewood was enthralled Saturday by the Red Spirit Fashion Show at the 2010 Central States Fair.

Native American fashion designers Joy Lynn Parton, Mildred Carpenter and Danita Strawberri had brought selections of their clothing lines to the Knology Stage for a 20-minute fashion show as Native models in contemporary clothing took a walk on the catwalk to the beat of a Rapid City drum group.

“It’s pretty cool,” Madison said of the style show.

“It’s very interesting to watch these girls model. They’re doing such a good job,” De De Ghere of Rapid City said.

Ghere and her grandniece, Beyer, were part of the audience at Central States Fair’s Day of Unity, a day recognizing Native American and multi-cultural relations.

Tim Giago, a member of the 2010 Unity Committee and publisher of the Native Sun News, said the good news was that Unity Day, which was held for the first time Saturday, will return next year to the Central States Fair.

“Next year, I hope to see 24 to 40 booths on display out there,” he said of the grassy courtyard outside of the Fine Arts, exhibits and horticultural buildings.

Giago said he was grateful to Ron Jeffries, general manager of the fair, and Dixie Holy Eagle, who organized the mini-powwow, artists’ booths and fashion show for the day’s presentations.

“Next year, we’re hoping to have all the events in one area,” he said.

Twenty years ago, Giago worked with the late Gov. George Mickelson to create the Year of Reconciliation. It was a step in a process of addressing race relations in South Dakota. While Giago said he was disappointed with the results of that effort, he sees the Year of Unity as a way of improving racial relations by involving businesses and chambers of commerce from throughout the state.

“It is going to work out in so many different ways,” he said.

Sue Ghere-Garofalo of Rapid City said the fair’s Unity Day was a good idea when it comes to bridging race relations.

“We all need to be on the same page, and we don’t need to live under so much tension. If there were more things like this, the racial tension would really calm down in town,” she said.

Chris Whiting of Pine Ridge brought his Native American crafts, jewelry and star quilts to Unity Day. Whiting talked to people throughout the day about his art, military service and business.

He said that he has experienced racial problems in Rapid City, but also understands that the races need to understand one another.

“We need to stand together as one people,” he said.

Unity events may be the one way to introduce cross-cultural dialogues, where people can speak honestly and directly to each other, Whiting said.

“The people who organized Unity Day, they should know this is big,” he said.

Candice Estes and Mike Lammers of Wakeya Crafts were at the fair to show their support for the event. Estes received two Reconciliation Awards 20 years ago as an advocate for racial equality.

She recalls the Year of Reconciliation and what Mickelson did for the state and race relations. The Year of Unity is not as big or as evolved as Mickelson’s program, Estes said, “but it’s a start. I wish they could do more.”

Estes said that during the reconciliation years, Rapid City’s Chamber of Commerce, the South Dakota Department Health and Human Services and the Rapid City Journal had Native American advisory boards that met regularly.

“People wanted to get our input. But the advisory boards have all fallen by the wayside,” she said. “I think Governor Rounds has the right idea, but he has to put more effort and opportunity into it.”

Tom Yellow and his wife, Carmen Yellow Horse, of Red Shirt talked Saturday with about 40 people, including some who never had a discussion with a Native American before.

“Unity is getting together and socializing like this,” Carmen Yellow Horse said.

“We treat them with respect and they treat us with respect. They sometimes have an image of what Indians are because of what they see downtown,” Tom Yellow added.

Carmen Yellow Horse said events like Saturday’s are important if race relations are to improve in South Dakota.

“They meet us, and we’re interested in who they are, and they’re interested in us. We start a conversation,” she said.

Contact Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or