RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - They've raised the issue for decades but it's mostly fallen on deaf ears.
None of the land that used to be home to the Rapid City Indian Boarding School has ended up in Indian hands. Now a team of native researchers -- armed with a detailed presentation -- feels like it's "Groundhog Day" as they still can't seem to get the hearings they seek.
Four years ago research into the students who died at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School stumbled on the story of the 1948 distribution of 1,200 acres of the school's land by act of Congress.
"What started as simply a project to identify the children in the graves has opened a Pandora's Box," said researcher Heather Dawn Thompson.
Much of the land was gifted from the Department of the Interior to the city of Rapid City and the Rapid City school district. A clause in the law states that the land reverts back to federal ownership if not used for city or school purposes.
Researchers found four properties with questionable titles including the Canyon Lake Senior Center that sits on land deeded from the school district in 2005. A 2017 Department of the Interior analysis concluded that the Canyon Lake property as used today would be subject to reversion to federal ownership.
The researchers have made more than 40 public presentations on their findings and want to sit down with the school board, too. But the board has repeatedly rebuffed them.
"I find it disappointing that the school board has had three years to hear the research of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands project," said team member Lafawn Janis. "And this shows the complete disrespect for the native community and the native voice."
In July the researchers sent a letter to each school board member asking again for a time to present its findings to the school board. No answer has been forthcoming. A school district spokesperson said Wednesday that an answer was being formulated and that the board's legal counsel had been consulted.
At least one board member said she would like the panel to hear the researchers' findings.
"I've heard Heather Dawn Thompson's presentation both as a board member and as a community member," said Rapid City Board of Education member Christine Stephenson. "Both presentations I found extremely relevant to the work we as a district are doing trying to educate all members, all children in our community and I'm very hopeful that all members of the board can this information, this presentation in a timely manner."
The law firm that is today counseling the school board on how to respond to requests to talk about the 2005 Canyon lake Senior Center land transfer is the same firm that represented the board in 2005. That firm is Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson, & Ashmore.