Tackling race relations with new recommendations for Rapid City Human Relations Commission

A doubted commission may get the revamp it needs with some new task force suggestions.
Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 7:24 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) -With recent protests about race relations, nationally the issue is gaining more attention.

But for Rapid City, the Human Relations Commission (HRC) was created in 2009 to tackle discriminatory complaints. It evolved from the Indian-White Relations Committee in the 1970s.

In 2014, the Rapid City Council adopted an ordinance expanding the range of entities the HRC could investigate discrimination concerns, giving them legal power like subpoenas and cross-examination.

The problem is the commission seemed to be ineffective these past few years.

“If this complaint broke a law, then it would move forward and if it didn’t then it was like ‘ok, sorry we can’t help you with that.’ Then it just kind of sat to the side and that really created this feeling of being unheard, “Amy Sazue, an HRC Task Force member, said.

Only 14 complaints were filed from 2014 to 2018.

In July 2017, now Rapid City Alderwoman Laura Armstrong, was assigned to the HRC. But despite the admirable people in the group, Armstrong was concerned that the group was not coming to fruition with it’s task.

“I don’t want to look like I was picking on the HRC but the lack of action was very frustrating,” she said.

This is why Mayor Steve Allender created a six-member task force in 2019 to find out what can the commission do better.

The task force includes some members of the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors (MOA), a group that was already working to bridge relations between Natives and non-Natives.

MOA Director and HRC Task Force Member Karen Mortimer said the groups merged to gain insight from MOA’s normal model of operation, including a public-private relationship.

The diverse task force suggested two major changes need to be made.

One is to have a diverse commission that will focus on education and advocacy modeled after the BEAM ideology from MOA.

The second is changing the complaint process to hearing an individuals concern and then resolving it whether that is through conversation, mediation or filing it with an agency.

The task force hopes the HRC will “not just [be] a Visine eyewash program to satisfy a federal check box,” Tony Rhodes, a HRC task force member, said.

Rather, it would lead to ever-lasting impact. The goal Rapid City Council President Laura Armstrong is optimistic about as she said “through these difficult conversations we are going to have change.”

The commission would be a nine-member team with potentially a term of three years.

In a couple of weeks, Mayor Steve Allender will discuss how the new commission would work in the 2021 budget.

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