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My Travels

Small Town South Dakota: Lost in Time


A view across the Missouri River

I had the privilege of living in north central South Dakota for six months of my life. To put this into perspective, I moved there from small town Kansas. Prior to that I had lived near large metropolitan areas all of my life.

First, I must say that in all the areas I have lived, South Dakota was the one place that took the prize for preserving the land and wildlife as it should be. Flocks of birds often filled the skies. Fish ran in abundance in the river. Herds of buffalo still exist, now protected. It makes you feel like you walked back into a time before man even walked the ground.

As I first arrived in the small town with all of our belongings, we stopped the car and were trying to find someone to ask them what time it was as we were not sure of the time zone change. A man of American Indian appearance wearing a big cowboy hat came into view. He already pegged us as outsiders by our license plates and car packed to the gills. So, I asked him what time it was. He looked at me for a second, then looked up gazing at the Sun. He paused. He then laughed, looked at his watch and told us what time it was. This was my first social human contact here in this natural wonderland.

As I delved into my job and life in this particular town, I began to see a greatly uncomfortable undertone to the area. Like I said, walking into the area was already like walking back into time due to the nature and wildlife in the area (especially for a majority city kid like myself), but this was different. This was a disturbing social issue still festering in the community. I think it is best explained through a conversation I had with my new boss on one of the first days I went to work.

He made it clear that he had issue with the local Native American people of the area. Actually, much of the town seemed divided in that regard. On one side of the tracks were the Caucasian people, and on the other or on the reservation… the Native American people.  He told me a story about how HUD (Housing and Urban Development) had built many homes on the reservation for the Native Americans. You could feel the disgust in his words as he explained further. He stated that the Native Americans proceeded to rip everything of value out of the homes and sell them. In some cases, breaking holes in walls so their horses could drink water from the bathtubs.  I thought to myself…I can feel where this is going…what kind 60’s retro-racist generalization of a reality did I step into? Surely, if his story was true…they should not have wrecked the homes that were built for them. Although, I’m not going to lump all Native Americans into that category just as I would not lump all white people into the trailer trash tweaker category. He went on to say, that if you can prove to the government that you are a certain percentage Native American heritage, you can collect a check every month…sometimes two. He continued on by saying…So, that’s exactly what they do…sit back and collect checks, then they walk into my store and scream at me that I am racist for following my store’s return policy. Then he looked at me and said….then, they end up drunk lying in the streets.

He was expressing anger of certain things that had merit and certain things that absolutely do not, but he was doing it through incorrect and demeaning racist generalizations. Now, the whole “drunk lying in the streets” part really got to me. I mean, if that wasn’t one of the most racist things I have heard in a long time (American Indian…firewater…drunk all the time…I get it. Where was the muzzle I needed to shut this guy up at the time?). Trying to forget about that conversation altogether, I went on with life as I know it should be.

One very cold night, we were sitting watching TV. It was literally -34 degrees raw air temperature outside and a lot of snow on the ground. It was just as we were about to go to bed that a knock was heard at our door. Now, we barely knew anybody in town and it was late and very cold outside. Who could this be? We were startled to see that it was a man of Native American descent obviously very inebriated stumbling around trying to get into our house. Now, this scared our family because we did not know his intentions. So, I went to the door and opened it and asked him what he wanted. He mumbled something Forest Brooks would not be able to understand then turned and wandered off into the street before I could stop him. We noticed he was trying to get into locked cars as he wandered down the street. Of course, we realized he was just trying to get warm. Being as cold as it was and him without the proper attire, we called 911 because he would have certainly froze to death in that weather.  After talking to the police who responded, they told us that this was an unfortunate and often seen occurrence there. I thought to myself for a second. This is where my boss gets this from. I mean really, Las Vegas is full of gamblers addicted to gambling, but I do not see wholesale segregation of gamblers in the Las Vegas valley. Not only that, but even if it is a problem in that town within that certain demographic, you cannot just go around generalizing an entire race (I’m still looking for that muzzle by the way).

Understand that this is one mans experience within one small town in South Dakota and by no means is it meant to define every town within South Dakota. What I am doing is pointing out that every demographic has issues to work through, but its the differences in all of us that make everyone wonderfully unique. I just hope that one day people will totally stop attacking any singular race or people based on the actions of a few. Think of the wonderful opportunity that small town has to exchange information, beliefs. To think, it will all be squandered unless they catch up to this century and live life as a human being, not a specific demographic. I choose to be a human being and a positive, loving being of the universe.

—–Erik Sudberg

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About thetumultuoustimes

I am just a citizen of the world expressing opinions about a world that is in dire need of change.

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