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SD Tribal Land Swap Continues Amid Boarding School Discoveries

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Wednesday, July 7, 2021   

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- This week, Rapid City residents get updates on a land-transfer project involving the Native American community. The work coincides with global headlines about discovery of a burial site at a former tribal boarding school in Canada.

Almost a decade ago, a volunteer-driven effort was launched to verify details about Native children buried at a former federal boarding school on Rapid City's west side. The research paved the way for an historic agreement with the city to establish parcels of land for Native purposes.

Valeriah Big Eagle, a volunteer for the Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands Project, said news out of Canada, and the remains of 215 children found there, added an emotional element to the local effort.

"We've heard those horror stories of children that were, you know, killed and buried, and we've heard these from our elders, and it's really, really challenging," Big Eagle explained. "But to acknowledge it is helping us heal as an Indigenous community."

Since the Canadian discovery, the U.S. Interior Secretary has announced a review of former sites used to assimilate Native children into American life.

Big Eagle said local tribes will not consent to digging up graves, but are open to looking at other parts of the land.

New details about the land transfer will be shared at a public meeting this Thursday, including converting some property into a Native American community center.

The announcement follows a resolution approved by the city council last fall, acknowledging tribes were never given a portion of the land, long after the school closed.

Eric Zimmer, another volunteer for the Project, noted the non-Native population can share in the experience as well.

"What we're talking about doing is undertaking work that sort of raises the quality of life for everyone in the community through a long, careful, deliberate process of trying to understand and respond to the more challenging parts of our history," Zimmer outlined.

Volunteers were recently recognized for their work with an honorable mention in the Outstanding Public History Project Award, issued annually by the National Council on Public History.


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