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Mending Fences: SD Church Provides Space for Indigenous Students

Rapid City has seen longstanding tensions between Native American communities and the white population over 1,200 acres of land that once belonged to an Indian boarding school. Various groups and Native American leaders say the land was stolen from tribes and paved the way for unlawful use. (Adobe Stock)
Rapid City has seen longstanding tensions between Native American communities and the white population over 1,200 acres of land that once belonged to an Indian boarding school. Various groups and Native American leaders say the land was stolen from tribes and paved the way for unlawful use. (Adobe Stock)
September 15, 2020

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Many South Dakota schools returned to in-person learning this fall. But that's not an easy decision for all families during the pandemic. And one Rapid City church is trying to help students who face extra burdens because of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, St. Andrews Episcopal Church began allowing a home-school pod that includes 10 Native American students to use building space for day-to-day learning at no cost. The Reverend Cody Maynus said given the fact that the church sits on land that was taken away from tribes, they see it as a good first step in making amends on a deeper, historical scale.

"We've got the space, on land that we shouldn't have. And we have an opportunity here to not only be a good neighbor but engage in some justice work," Maynus said.

Maynus said given the enhanced health risks Native Americans face during the pandemic, along with certain barriers to technology, the church space can help give these families the flexibility they need for students to engage in online learning.

He also hopes it can lead to more connections and an easing of tensions between Native American communities and non-Natives in Rapid City, in the context of larger bridge-building efforts by other groups in the community.

One of those groups, Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors, or MOA, focuses on the issue through projects such as "An Inconvenient Truth." It documents how 1,200 acres of land on the city's west side was taken from from tribes several decades ago through a Congressional act.

MOA director Karen Mortimer said ideally, they would like to work out a complete land swap between the city and tribes in the form of reparations. In the meantime, she said, gestures such as this one from the church go a long way.

"It's not solving the problem, but it's opening it up to look for solutions," Mortimer said.

Those behind the reparations effort have been engaged with the city in discussing how to address these parcels of land. While it's unclear what that might look like, those talks could re-emerge at city council meetings as early as October.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD