West Middle School & Sioux Addition Housing

By Heather Dawn Thompson

Native American Migration Patterns to Rapid City. As the gateway to the Black Hills (Paha Sapa), Rapid City and particularly Rapid Creek (Mniluzahan) have historically been at the epicenter of life for several Native American communities, most notably Lakotas, to whom the Hills are sacred. After the U.S. government forcibly removed Native Americans from their Black Hills treaty lands and confined them to reservations in the latter years of the nineteenth century, there were three particularly significant waves of Native American migration to Rapid City.

One of the first waves of modern migration was during the era of the Rapid City Indian School, which was open from 1898 until 1933. During this time, government agents took children from their homes on reservations in South Dakota and elsewhere, then brought them to the Rapid City Indian School. Many families moved or traveled to Rapid City be near their children. Many of the boarding school children ended up staying in Rapid City and raising families of their own.

The second wave of migration came between the 1930s and 1960s, after the boarding school was converted into a segregated tuberculosis clinic known as the Sioux Sanitarium. Native families moved to Rapid City to be near loved ones committed to the facility.

The third wave arrived during and just after World War II, when the federal government converted a portion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation into a military bombing range, forcing dozens of Native families to evacuate their homes. Others came to Rapid City to work in war industries.

With each of these waves, a lack of extended family and monetary resources, the historical connection to Rapid Creek, and historical housing discrimination issues in Rapid City, resulted in a significant portion of these families living in small encampments on or near Rapid Creek. 

Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands & the Requests by the Native American Community for Housing

After the passage of the Act of May 20, 1948, the Native American community in Rapid City watched as the Rapid City Indian School lands (RCIS lands) were distributed to non-Native entities by the U.S. Department of Interior (“DOI”). The Native community made a formal request to build housing near Sioux San for the many families living or camping near Rapid Creek without permanent home structures.

The non-Native community living in west Rapid City strongly opposed this request. Articles published in the Rapid City Journal in the early 1950s reveal signed petitions threatening to impeach the mayor and members of the city council if RCIS lands were used for Native American community housing. The public discourse focused on “law and order” and the lack of “sanitation” or “municipal services” available on the property. The request was denied.

The “Indian Problem” and West Middle School. Meanwhile, in April 1953, U.S. Senator Francis Case visited various “Indian camps” on and near Rapid Creek and reported back that the conditions were unacceptable and that the government had an obligation to provide housing for Rapid City’s Native community.

The statute clearly allowed for a gift of land to the City which could have been used for housing. It also clearly allowed for the use of the federal lands, or the exchange of the federal lands, for “needy Indians.” Both of these options were rejected. Neither the federal nor City governments wanted the housing on their lands, as neither wanted responsibility for what they referred to as the “Indian problem.” Further, providing space for Native housing on the western edge of Rapid City—where the boarding school-turned sanitarium existed—was politically unpopular.

Therefore, city and federal officials crafted a creative, mutually beneficial solution: The DOI gifted 27.27 acres of RCIS land to Rapid City for “municipal or educational purposes.” The deal contained the “reversion clause” stating that the land would be returned to DOI if not used for those purposes. Once the deal was signed, Rapid City transferred the land to the Rapid City Area School District in exchange for $15,000. The school district then built West Middle School on that property.

The Mayor’s Committee for Human Rights

Upon the completion of this land deal, Rapid City took the $15,000 it received from the School District and gifted it to a non-governmental entity, the Mayor’s Committee on Human Rights (“Committee”). The former Mayor of Rapid City, Isaac Chase, was the Chairman of the Committee. The federal and city governments made this arrangement assuming that if the housing funds were handled by a non-governmental entity, this arrangement would absolve the federal and municipal governments from further responsibilities over the new Native American housing project.

Sioux Addition Housing

The Committee took the $15,000 from the exchange/sale of the West Middle School lands and purchased 20 acres of land, separated into 80 plots, for approximately $2,000 in the early 1950s. The land was located outside of the city boundaries, adjacent to what is now Lakota Homes, and had no “municipal functions,” including water or sewer. This land became known as “Sioux Addition,” and is identified by the street names Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Red Cloud in north Rapid City.

The Committee then worked to move Native American families from Rapid Creek to the Sioux Addition. When Native Americans agreed to the relocation, the Committee helped move their shacks or tents from the river to the new location. However, the Sioux Addition was located over two miles—or an hour’s walk—from Rapid Creek, and many families chose to stay along Rapid Creek as the residents of Sioux Addition had to haul their water from the creek for almost two decades. The 1972 flood washed away the small Native village that had been established along Rapid Creek.

In the late 1960s, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funds were used to finally install a water and sanitation system to what had become known as the Lakota Sanitary District. By 1971, however, the increased costs to Rapid City to provide water to the remote Sioux Addition, resulted in a spike in water prices. Residents of the Sioux Addition—already some of the poorest residents of Rapid City—paid approximately $25-35 each month, as compared to approximately $5.50 per month for the rest of Rapid City. The controversy of the water costs is one of the factors which lead to the annexation of much north Rapid, against the fierce opposition of the residents Sioux Addition. At present, it is unclear what happened to the Lakota Sanitary District which was paid for by the BIA and owned by Sioux Addition.

“Trust” Land Status & Loss of Sioux Addition Homes

The original request by Rapid City’s Native American community had been for housing located on RCIS lands adjacent to Sioux San. The original Sioux Addition residents had been under the impression that there had been a land swap, as allowed under the statute. They therefor believed that the Sioux Addition lands were also federal lands; an understanding bolstered by the fact that the BIA paid to construct their water and sewer infrastructure. Had they been held in trust by the federal government, the Sioux Addition property would not have been subject to state or local taxes. Indeed, some correspondence between local officials in the 1980s concurred that theSioux Addition lands fell within the federal/tribal trust status, but that understanding does not appear to have been made public.

Unfortunately, due to the purposefully “creative” structure of the land deal between Rapid City and the school board, these lands were purchased privately, or “in fee,” with the intent to clear them any governmental status. This rendered the lands taxable, and as a result, a significant portion of the original residents of Sioux Addition lost their homes and plots over the years for failing to pay taxes on property they believed was not taxable. 

The residents of Sioux Addition, through the Sioux Addition Civic Association, were key community leaders in seeking access to the RCIS lands and served as advocates for services for the Rapid City Native American community.

Ted Stephens III