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Letter to the Editor Re: North Dakota National Guard and Native Fans

Update: The Bismarck Tribune would require the ND National Guard to respond directly to their paper, so I have pulled my original letter. It would have been disingenuous to allow a letter to print questions to which the Guard has responded in another medium.

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From Early This Morning: Native News recently printed a letter to the editor from me regarding what many fans observed at the Class B Basketball Championship. I stand by the version that Native News printed, however it was not the version I asked them to print. The printed version was written in the heat of the moment and was less than ideal for conversation.

The Bismarck Tribune will be printing the more useful version of the letter. I have provided it below. I have also included the North Dakota National Guard’s response to my letter. I appreciate the Guard’s immediate response via their Facebook page, specifically I find this line to be of value, “We will review our procedures to ensure that we never again create such a perception.”

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Letter to the Editor

Why did the ND National Guard send two Guardsmen to dazzle the ND State Class B Boys Basketball Championship fans, giving full attention to one group of fans while ignoring the other?

At half-time, one Guardsman spent a good five minutes leading cheers, tossing recruiting goodies, and drumming up spirit for one team in the championship game. The other Guardsman was nowhere to be seen. Effectively, the National Guard snubbed the opposing team.

That team was Native, the Four Winds Indians. It was embarrassing to say the least; the blatant rudeness was shocking.

There may be a legitimate reason for this. If there is a reason, the ND National Guard did not explain it to the crowd. Instead they openly and unapologetically shunned the ethnic group that serves more heavily in the military than any other.

I spoke with a Four Winds fan, a man in his 50s, old enough to have some experience with the military. He had no idea why the Guard ignored his side of the arena. “You know, this kind of thing happens so often, you just get used to it. But whenever there’s a war, then they pay attention to us.” He thanked me for noticing.

I was appalled, and I was not the only one to notice this affront. The message that the Guard sent loud and clear – even if it was not the intended message – was that white kids are worthy of their time, and Indian kids are not.

This is curious when according to the Department of Defense Native American Heritage Month site, “historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups.”  Is this a public, unashamed expression of racism? Without an explanation, what else are we to think?

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North Dakota National Guard Response via Facebook

“A recruiter with the North Dakota National Guard was singled out in a recent letter to the editor of the Native News Online. A review of the circumstances surrounding this event revealed that it was a honest mistake by our recruiter. After completing the breakdown of his booth because it was the last game of the day, the recruiter quickly grabbed the remaining “give away” items and distributed them to the crowd that was nearest to him. The recruiter engaged the crowd with cheers and gave away the last few remaining items. We apologize that this created a perception that we were supporting one group of fans while ignoring the other. During the duration of the Class B Basketball tournament, our recruiters were in contact with all of the fans of all of the teams and distributed Guard-related items. This was in no way meant to be a display of favoritism, the recruiter simply ran out of items. We have nothing but respect for all of our Brothers & Sisters-in-Arms; we relish the relationship we have with our Native American Communities, as well as the schools and colleges within those communities. We will review our procedures to ensure that we never again create such a perception.”

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The event addressed above in no way reflects on the game itself or on the players from either team, who have the utmost respect for one another, as was obvious from their embracing one another before and after the game.

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