History informs us. It informs our actions, our beliefs, our relationships. The history of the Black Hills region isn’t known or understood by everyone in our community, creating gaps and misunderstandings. This lack of knowledge could be a source of damaged relationships.
Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors seek to support the education of the community about the culturally rich history in the Black Hills region and to build relationships.
We acknowledge the travesties in the history of our community and in this place. This history didn’t end in the far past. It didn’t end in the 1800s. It didn’t end in the 1940s.
History is being created today. With the MOA work going forward, good things are filling that history. Our role is to provide perspective, to move us toward healing. We face challenges. Sometimes we have to reconsider how to move forward as a community. The actions we take today can impact lives with greater understanding and respect. History has too often torn us apart as a community. We want history to bring us together.
We are creating history with our positive actions today.
Broken or lack of relationships and lack of respect between Native and non-Natives have led to difficult issues in our community. When the original Bush Foundation initiative evolved into Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors, we were careful to state this problem up front, and found people were anxious to roll up their sleeves together.
Some of the issues we face are large and difficult, but each one of us is capable of doing something small, something life changing. It’s tiny steps that move the community forward in a big way.
These are examples of creative approaches to the issues the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors are focused on:
With low representation of Natives on the Rapid City police force, the PD hasn’t always known how to deal with cultural and historical topics. There have been serious issues and accusations surrounding the PD and their actions toward Native Americans. But now, Rapid City Chief of Police Karl Jegeris is one of our biggest advocates.
It started with a conversation, and that conversation grew to include young Native leaders. A relationship was formed between Karl Jegeris and Vaughn Vargas. They have both benefited and been challenged by their collaboration. Soon after, Karl created a new cultural position in the police force with Vaughn at the helm. There have been several positive changes in law enforcement through this and we continue to work in that area with these Ambassadors. It’s been a huge step forward. We also supported and funded a Native American themed police car. The first of its kind the RCPD.
LNI basketball tournament participants didn’t always feel welcome in Rapid City. There’s been a positive, dramatic change in this area that can’t be measured, only experienced. This effort has collected a group of allies: the Rapid City government, Chamber of Commerce, Civic Center, Business Improvement District Board, Ateyapi (Rural America Initiatives), and MOA.
Rapid City continues to struggle with its relationship between the Native and non-Native communities. One reason is lack of understanding about recent history of the Rapid City Boarding School and its lands. These lands run from Mountain View Road on the east to Canyon Lake Park, including Stevens High School, West Middle School, Canyon Lake Elementary School, Sioux Park, the National Guard range, churches and housing.
That history continues to shape the present for many in the community. In partnership with the mayor of Rapid City, we are publicly presenting this history through forums and documentation. This project will fundamentally reshape the way Rapid City residents understand each other, and provide a platform of truth to begin healing.
When we get to know one another, when we build authentic relationships, we can work together differently. Bridging cultures and having honest, respectful conversations are guiding transformation in our community.
We are developing a pilot youth MOA cohort, working with young people to explore issues related to broken relationships between Native and non-Native youth. We hope to learn from the youth leaders, connecting adult MOA leaders to jointly seek ways to honor history and place as well as relationships for a better community.
As Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors, we see ideas emerging organically in remarkable ways. We’ve experienced explosive growth and opportunities that strengthen the framework for our initiatives. We’ve learned to “go slow to go fast” in our role of critical, thoughtful relationship building between diverse cultures.
Through actions by the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors, our community can see and feel relationships improving. Though there are setbacks along the way, there is energy, power and spirit behind this movement. The Ambassadors push forward.
We’re exploring new ideas, sharing perspectives and linking arms to build a higher level of acceptance and understanding between Natives and non-Natives. We believe in developing authentic relationships, which take time. But the work is growing, not diminishing.
As we focus on building relationships, we are seeing direct impact on local events. Participants of the Lakota Nations Invitational (LNI) Basketball Tournament didn’t always feel welcome in Rapid City. The issue grew to the point LNI considered moving their tournament elsewhere.
When we learned of the problem, we began working with community leaders and businesses to turn the situation into a positive one. This movement, led by Julie Jenson at the Convention Visitors Bureau, collected a group of allies: the Rapid City government, Chamber of Commerce, Civic Center, Business Improvement District Board, Ateyapi (Rural America Initiatives), and MOA. A cultural committee was formed, and beautiful change took place with celebration now around the event. The dramatic change continues to ripple through our community each year.
While twenty–five percent of Rapid City is Native American, we’ve had relatively low representation of Lakota culture in schools and other aspects of our community. Through the work of the Ambassadors, we are beginning to celebrate and appreciate Lakota culture. MOA is establishing ways to reveal collaborations related to bridging cultures in the Black Hills region. We are finding new connections and synergy with individuals.
One powerful example of our work is the relationship forged between two MOA leaders: Rapid City Chief of Police Karl Jegeris, and a young Native leader, Vaughn Vargas. They have both benefited and been challenged by their collaboration. Karl met Vaughn within MOA, and soon after, Karl created a new cultural position in the police force with Vaughn at the helm.
Doors have opened to connect businesses and other donors to Native initiatives and events such as the Black Hills Wacipi (powwow). We’ve seen growth in engagement with non-Native attendance. MOA member Brent Phillips (CEO of Regional Health) purchased 500 tickets to the Wacipi for his staff. He also coordinated a “Lakota Land and Identities” bus trip for Regional Health employees, and developed a cultural committee within the health system.
A champion alongside Rural American Initiatives, with Bruce Long Fox as the leader, we supported the creation of the Native American Day Parade. MOA provides substantial support for the parade to make it a successful event with volunteers, prizes, and over 60 entries.
Throughout the year, we sponsor seminars, lectures, and educational forums for the community around cultural, historical, and spiritual knowledge. We also do Wacipi 101 to share the “hows, whats and whys” of a Wacipi.
Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors are working toward creating climate change and to bridge cultures. We believe we can be creative and meet our goals, and then some. The Ambassadors are taking our community to new places.