NATIVE RIGHTS SAMPLING (continued)
RACISM IN THE NORTHERN PLAINS [SOME
OF OUR NATIVE RIGHTS HIGH SPOTS]
HUNTER GRAY [JOHN R. SALTER, JR.]
(You may need your right arrow to read this letter in its entirety.)
This letter of mine, November 25 1987, is to the then Mayor of Devils Lake, North Dakota -- a primarily Anglo town and at that point one of the worst racist complexes in the Northern Plains -- which adjoins the Fort Totten Sioux Reservation (then the Devils Lake Sioux Tribe and now known as the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe or the Spirit Lake Nation.) My letter was published in the Dacotah News, (official tribal newspaper), December 18 1987. The editor then was Doug Lohnes, a former student of mine.
In September, 1987, I spoke to a large meeting at Devils Lake. The gathering, held at nothing less than the elegant Elks Club on the edge of town, had been set up with a substantially different topic. (This was a deliberate maneuver on our part.) As a consequence, a large number of influential local Whites (along with some Indian people "in the know"), were present to hear me -- the major speaker -- deal in detail with the utterly racist situation in Devils Lake and its extremely negative impact on Native people (and also on Whites as well.) Here I raised the strong probability of an Indian boycott of the Devils Lake businesses.
This event produced an extremely angry reaction from Lew Jorgenson, the local States Attorney (county prosecutor with whom I had earlier clashed in Indian court cases) and our bitter fight over the Devils Lake situation became well known fast. In addition, I publicized affidavits I had taken from Sioux people brutalized by Devils Lake "lawmen." Soon after my letter reached the Mayor -- and it received broad publicity quickly -- an economic boycott began to take definitive shape. We also filed compaints under the Civil Rights Act and brought Federal and State investigators into the situation.
And we publicized all of this both regionally and nationally -- including in human rights journals.
There was then a great deal of vigorous and constructive interaction.
Change came. Very good changes!
Brutality by police and sheriff's men ended. (And there were significant and positive personnel changes in the agencies.)
Regular bi-racial meetings between Sioux leaders and city and county officers began with respect to ending prejudice and discrimination at Devils Lake. (And, for the first time, Devils Lake cooperated with the Tribe vis-a-vis a major Pow-Wow and the city contributed several thousand dollars to it.)
A tribal judge who, with his family members, had been falsely accused of theft and otherwise ill-treated by the White Mart store at Devils Lake, contacted me and we worked out an intricate strategy. As a consequence, he quickly received not only a personal apology given to him face-to-face by top national White Mart management but a check for $10,000 as well.
Because of the developing economic boycott situation throughout the Devils Lake setting, and associated tactical approaches of ours, Native people were quickly treated infinitely better in the stores -- and fair hiring practices began. Devils Lake motels that were discriminating against Indian people -- in some cases charging special security deposits! -- stopped these practices which were in direct violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
A cultural exchange program between Sioux traditionalists and interested Devils Lake Anglos (including clergy) began. Sioux leaders were invited to speak before such groups as the Devils Lake Businessmens' Association. Moderate Whites, long silent, began speaking out.
Most importantly of all, Native people became very outspoken and involved in the whole social change/social justice process which has continued right along through the years.
Another very interesting situation then developed: The Devils Lake Sioux Tribe decided, with every good justification, to develop its own tribal motor vehicle license plate and seek, from the State of North Dakota, full recognition and reciprocity for this. This effort was very capably spearheaded by a tribal official, Ms. Maxine Foss, and her son, Burl Good Soldier -- who had been a long-time student of mine. When North Dakota, through its then Attorney General, Nick Spaeth, refused to recognize and accept the Devils Lake Sioux license plate, Burl immediately brought me into the conflict as key consultant. Among other things, I spoke out very publicly in many media on the matter. And, after a substantial fight, we all won! North Dakota completely recognized the Tribal plate and this. of course, continues right along. The Tribe sent me one of the very first minted license plates -- it's now in my permanent collection at State Historical Society of Wisconsin -- and Burl, April 13 1989, wrote a kind letter:
FOR SOME DISCUSSION OF THE RACIAL SITUATION AT GRAND FORKS IN THE 1980s AND INTO THE '90s, SEE http://www.hunterbear.org/there_is_a_saying_in_our_native_.htm
FOR CONTEMPORARY MATERIAL ON RACISM AT GRAND FORKS, SEE: