Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials
Capital Journal, Pierre, March 27
Rodeo club, change the name of your fundraiser
Imagine your ancestors were brought to this country against their will and were forced to work as slaves, often in conditions so unimaginably horrible that mere descriptions of what they suffered can cause nightmares. Imagine that your ancestors spent the better part of a century after being freed from such bondage living as second-class citizens in a country for which they fought wars and helped to make a better place. Imagine that even after your ancestors won the right to vote and helped to eliminate laws aimed at keeping them as second-class citizens, you still find yourself treated differently, sometimes with hostility, because of how you look.
Now, imagine that you move to a place that annually holds a slave auction. It’s tongue-in-cheek, to be sure. No one is actually selling anyone else into slavery. But it can’t feel too great knowing that the community you’ve chosen to spend your life in treats the thought of slavery in such a cavalier fashion. It would, we imagine, be a pretty big deal to you.
This, unfortunately, is not a hypothetical in Pierre or Fort Pierre. It’s actually happened.
Several years ago, an African American man approached the Pierre/Fort Pierre Rodeo Club and asked its members to consider changing the name of one of the group’s fundraising events.
The event’s name, you see, was and still is, hurtful to African Americans or really any group of people who has suffered through slavery. The ignominious name of this event is the Pierre/Fort Pierre Rodeo Club Slave Auction. Those last two words should cause everyone in America a little bit of pause when attached to anything intended to raise money for any group. There are myriad reasons for this but the two most obvious are: 1) There can be nothing lighthearted about the sale and/or ownership of human beings by other human beings and 2) Fairly recent history.
Our nation has a well-documented, horrible, tragic and disgraceful history with slavery. And, given the country’s more recent racial reckoning, it is hard to imagine how any responsible, thinking person can see the phrase “slave auction” attached to the actual sale of someone’s labor to raise money for a cause, however noble that cause may be, and not think to themselves; “Gee maybe, just maybe, the name of this event might be a teensy bit inappropriate.”
The fact that the use of the phrase “slave auction” apparently hasn’t caused the members of the area’s high school rodeo club or its advisors to stop and think for more than a few minutes one time a few years ago, is a problem. So too, is the fact that the club’s members a few years ago, after being told flat out that other members of the community find the use of the phrase hurtful — a word that does not even begin to describe what the phrase “slave auction” means to an African American person — couldn’t come up with a less disgraceful name for their event.
The club’s current advisors have said they strive to let the kids make their own decisions. That’s great. They should be encouraging kids to think through tough issues and decide for themselves what to do about it. But if the decision is to keep a clearly hurtful, not merely offensive mind you, name for an event, then the adults failed in their duty to guide these kids toward making good choices. In today’s world, naming as a slave auction any fundraising event where labor is sold is, at best, a display of profoundly bad judgment.
There is no evidence to suggest the rodeo club intended to cause harm to anyone with the name of their fundraiser. Indeed, the event and its name predate any of the club’s current members. The club’s members and its advisors simply haven’t stopped recently to think about what feelings the name might conjure up in someone who has a visceral connection to slavery or its after effects in this country. It apparently never occurred to the club’s members that holding an event called a “slave auction” could be seen as glorifying or, at best making light of, one of the darkest chapters in America’s history.
The name of this event needs to change. May we suggest calling it a ranch hand auction or a labor auction or a Work-for-Hire auction or literally anything else other than a slave auction?
Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, March 27
The ongoing cost of county roads
Yankton County’s road issues have been well documented, and the efforts to fix them have been criticized and, on two occasions, rejected by a vote of county residents, which sent a pretty clear message.
But that message has had consequences.
One consequence was a decision by the County Commission last year to grind up a paved road and convert it to gravel. Yankton has a lot of paved county roads — the ratio of paved to unpaved is nearly equal — and it can’t afford to keep them all that way. OK, that’s an easy conclusion to reach. But when commissioners started making the decision to convert some over, they heard complaints from those immediately impacted by it. It won’t be the last time this happens.
The commission also took the step of re-posting the speed limit on the Johnson Bridge road, also known as the Volin road, to 40 miles per hour due to excessive breakup. Frankly, the condition of that road, which is an important traffic artery, is not a good look or a practical answer for the county, but there is little else that can be done.
Another consequence emerged recently with the posting of new load limits on county roads for the spring thaw. The commission has decided to go with six-ton-per-axle limit/80,000 gross vehicle weight limit, with a permit process for non-divisible loads.
Objections have been raised by farmers and truckers who use the county roads and see the as too restrictive.
A compelling argument was made last week when a person who runs a grain elevator in Lesterville, which is reachable only on county roads, said the six-ton limit would hurt his business. The commissioners acknowledged his concerns, but stated that they couldn’t make a higher limit due to the recommendations of engineers. On that point, the commissioners seemed quite stern.
Lesterville is not the only town in the county that relies on such roads. But when those county roads are in poor shape, businesses and farmers who need better roads with higher load limits suffer. And that’s not good for anyone.
Those are the consequences of not repairing the roads or keeping them in the condition they need to be.
This problem has been years in the making, which county officials admit. But the damage has been done, and now the bill is due. And there’s little money to pay for it.
This leaves Yankton County where it is today: Miles of problems but with not enough dollars for anything by the most meager of solutions.
An attempt at a new road levy, if it were successful (and that’s a really big if, given recent history) would not be a cure-all by any means. It would only allow the county to begin making a dent in a problem that is growing by the year.
So far, the county is heeding the message of the voters. And we have the roads and bridges to prove it.
The message must change eventually. Otherwise, we’ll see more hard decisions, more complaints, more damage — and no answers.
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, March 27
Grant gives Custer State Park wildfire recovery efforts a boost
GOOD: A wildfire in December tore through one of our state’s most beloved attractions, torching more than half of Custer State Park’s 71,000 acres.
Recovery efforts started almost immediately after the Legion Lake Fire. Monetary donations poured in from around the country to replace hay burned in the fire. Park staff located buffalo and other animals displaced by the fire, and assessed their needs.
The park reopened Dec. 22, less than two weeks after the fire started Dec. 11. Recovery work, which is ongoing, got a major boost last week when the park received a $1.8 million grant to support recovery efforts.
The grant was awarded to the park by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and will be used to support aerial mapping, tree thinning, reseeding, weed control, erosion control and stream rehabilitation work.
“The rebirth of Custer State Park is definitely happening,” Matt Snyder, the park superintendent, said at a news conference Thursday.
Just like the arrival of spring, it’s a rebirth that we can all look forward to.
BAD: Pennington County Commissioner George Ferebee appeared in court last week, for the seemingly umpteenth time, in a case in which he stands accused of violating a county zoning ordinance.
Ferebee, who lives in rural Hill City, was found guilty in September of maintaining a septic system that lacked an operating permit. The county ordinance states that on-site wastewater treatment systems need to be pumped, inspected and issued permits regularly. Ferebee appealed the conviction and has been granted a new trial.
On March 20, state Assistant Attorney General Robert Haivala — the prosecutor who got the conviction against Ferebee — was appointed to handle the new trial, scheduled for May 16 and 17 at the Pennington County Courthouse.
Ferebee was originally charged in October 2015, and since that time many high-profile cases in the county have been tried, prosecuted and resolved. There’s no reason for this case to drag on much longer. Let’s hope this new trial proceeds as scheduled, and a resolution is reached in a timely manner.
UGLY: On March 14, an estimated 1,100 students at Central, Stevens and Rapid City high schools joined a national movement to honor victims of school shootings and protest congressional inaction on gun violence.
To their credit, the Rapid City Area School District allowed the walkouts to take place during school hours, and students were given 17 minutes to protest — one for each victim of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The schools were forced to place a moratorium on public visitors after receiving reports that counterprotests were “brewing and people wanted to visit the building on that day even if they had no kids in the school,” said Matt Seebaum, assistant superintendent of educational services.
It’s a shame anyone would want to disrupt these student-led protests. While opinions will always vary on gun control and how to make schools safer, we should all be in agreement that these bright, well-spoken students deserve to have their voices heard in this debate.