Can we do better?

By Karen Mortimer

I am a white woman…privileged. I have made many mistakes in my life.  ‘Miss- takes.’  I have moved too fast. I didn’t know any better. I just did what I knew how to do. As I view the sometimes fractured relationships between the Native and non-Native communities where I live, I know that I am not the only one who makes ‘miss-takes’. I will take responsibility for what I do and what I did.  

A few years ago, I knew and acknowledged there was a racial divide in Rapid City. Many of us know this to be true. But, I really did not know about the history and the place where we live. I really did not have any relationships with our Native American brothers and sisters. What I know better now is that history and place matter and relationships matter. Really…they do!  

All of us want the same thing: humanity. Our MOA group- Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors (Rapid City Circle of Friends) -connects people in our community- offering a network of empathetic, compassionate community members who continue to educate themselves, and one another, about the moments in our history that have torn us apart as a community, rather than brought us together as a people.

The history of our community didn’t end in 1868 or 1900 or 1940. We are creating history with our actions still today. Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors recognizes that there are travesties that have happened to Native American people in our community more than a century ago, and in recent years. We acknowledge that history is important and relevant to finding understanding. Through the work of ambassadors, we aspire to inject factual knowledge, compassion and balanced perspectives into our community’s conversations around race.  

Many people in our community—Native and non-Native alike—are still living the experiences that they lived 50 years ago… some even longer. There are issues of trust at the forefront of many of our challenges. We believe this work is about developing authentic, trusting relationships—which takes time.

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. Maya Angelou’s words can guide us here in Western South Dakota as we find ourselves in the middle of questions and when we find ourselves uncomfortable and challenging each other in the deception of not knowing better or even the apathy of keeping our blinders on.

Maybe …just maybe… we can learn together and do better together.

We can, if we focus on sincere efforts to teach and learn about our full history and place.

We can, if we reach out and develop relationships with people who are different from us.

Can we do better?

Karen Mortimer