South Dakota concert described as historic – battles teen suicide, domestic violence and racism – raises money for nation’s oldest Native American battered woman’s shelter
(Custer, South Dakota) – While some South Dakota whites will always be bitter about the Wounded Knee standoff over three decades ago, a Native American national newspaper reporter says a recent benefit concert was a step toward healing race relations while raising money to fight an alarming increase in domestic violence and teen suicide on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation.
Michigan and South Dakota musicians preformed at the August 12, 2007 concert to help heal racial tension between whites and Native Americans while battling an alarming rise in domestic violence and teen suicide on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation.
South Dakota residents and Black Hills visitors opened their hearts and wallets during the Sunday evening free benefit concert for the country’s first and oldest Native American domestic violence shelter
The concert at the Custer Lutheran Fellowship church featured northern Michigan and Black Hills musicians and raised about $1,000 for the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society (WBCWS) in Mission, S.D. The funds will be used for preventing domestic violence, sexual assault and teen suicide.
Native American reporter Dave Melmer said the concert was the first non-political events to ever bring racial healing between whites and Native Americans in Custer – where racism by some whites is generations old.
In fact, a Custer County historical marker still stands proclaiming “whites were massacred by Sioux Indians on this spot,” Melmer said.
South Dakota is “notoriously bad when it comes to race relations,” said Melmer, a reporter for Indian Country Today who lives in Custer. “There are white people in South Dakota who have never been on a reservation and are afraid to go.
Custer Lutheran Church Pastor Dave Van Kley said his church and the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American have reached out to Native Americans for more than a decade including their Lakota ministry with a presence on the Pine Ridge reservations.
Melmer said he commends all involved because the concert was “a courageous effort on their part to do this” and specifically praised the Custer Lutheran fellowship for its efforts over the years to foster a positive relationship with Native Americans.
Van Kley described the relationship with the tribe as “warm and gracious” adding that the Custer High School basketball team has participated in the Lakota Nation Invitational Basketball Tournament.
“The Custer high school has made an effort to be participate with Lakota people in athletic and other events – this has been going on for a long time,” Melmer said.
“The Lakota invitational basketball tournament is more than athletics – it’s a cultural event,” Melmer said. “It’s a celebration of native identity and now there are several whites schools that participate but in the early days the only non-Indian school to participate was Custer.”
Racism is worse in Custer, Melmer says, because the county courthouse was partially burned (February 6, 1973) in the days just prior the infamous Wounded Knee standoff between the American Indian Movement and federal agents that began on February 27, 1973 and left two Native Americans dead and two officers wounded. Custer is about 112 miles from Wounded Knee.
‘The concert was a big small step in improving race relations because it could lead to more of these kind of things,” Melmer said.
“The impact was probably was felt by both sides – the Indian and white communities – and maybe through these efforts there is a chance to bring these communities back together,” Melmer said
“There is hope for the younger generation and I would suggest they get children involved with the next concert,” Melmer said.
Rosebud unemployment is 82 percent, according to the tribe’s website.
Cattle ranching and farming is the main occupation for the 21,000 residents on the sprawling 1,400 square mile Rosebud reservation on the dusty, treeless, rolling prairies of South Dakota.
Rosebud neighbors the Lakota Pine Ridge reservation – where poverty is legendary on the southern edge of the fabled Badlands.
Family string band White water and duet Duo Borealis, both from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, performed at the request of the Turtle Island Project and its founder Rev. Lynn Hubbard, a Munising, MI pastor who is a friend of the Lakota tribe and the Custer church.
The Turtle Island Project promotes respect for the environment and the Native American culture.
The WBCWS, – founded 30 years ago by a group of courageous Native American women including current executive director Tillie Black Bear – serves all battered women and children as it fights family violence, sexual assault and teen suicide.
The Lakota Rosebud tribe has more teen suicide attempts than any other American Indian reservation in the United States, Black Bear said.
Rosebud Sioux Tribe officials recently declared a teen suicide “State of Emergency” on the reservation.
Figures from the Rosebud reservation alone are shocking: 21 rapes in the past 18 months; over 600 attempted teen suicides and 15 deaths during the past two years – most teenage boys.
Poverty, depression, a lack of jobs, drugs, alcohol and other social problems are among the reasons behind Rosebud teen suicides.
A federal report states violent crime against Native American women is 50 times higher and sexual assault is 3.5 times above other U.S. residents.
The WBCWS “is very much like a life beacon, shining in the middle of this country, showing us that there is still hope and light in this world,” said Dr. Hubbard, pastor of the Eden on the Bay Lutheran Church in Munising, MI.
Rev. Hubbard said he is reminded daily of the great work of the WBCWS because he lives in a “land of light houses, beacons that still shine showing those who sail upon the sea a way home, guiding those who have lost their way upon the sea and need a safe harbor.”
The WBCWS is a “light that shines in the darkness,” Dr. Hubbard said.
The Michigan groups traveled 1,000 miles to put on the free benefit concert, and the WBCWS is over 220 miles from the Custer church where the concert took place.
While those involved in the concert live long distances from each other, organizers said they are close on battling domestic violence, teen suicide and sexual assault.
The pastor of Custer Lutheran Fellowship church said the concert has renewed his congregation’s connection to the WBCWS and the Rosebud Reservation.
“We share in the goal of eliminating violence against women and violence in all of our families,” said Rev. Dave Van Kley. “We are also strongly committed to reconciliation between native and non-native peoples and hope that this concert was a small step in that direction.”
Black Bear said “the connection between Custer and the Rosebud reservation is once again open and strong.”
The crowd and the musicians shared stories about the Lakota reservation and social issues addressed by Tillie Black Bear of the WBCWS.
“It was like being in our own living room with some friends,” said White Water lead singer Dean B. Premo of Amasa, MI.
White water and Duo Borealis played a wide range of folk music including a “twist” on Amazing Grace that stirred the emotions of the crowd.
“Domestic violence, no matter the community, is a human travesty,” said Premo, founder of the White Water family band that has been performing together for nearly 30 years. “Addressing this problem at grass roots is an effective approach and White Water and Duo Borealis were happy to assist in a small way.”
The Michigan groups were joined by popular local singer Roxanne Sazue of Fort Thompson, S.D. who performed several songs and opened the show warming up the crow for the visiting musicians. the connection between. The three acts became one at the end and performed “I Will Fly Away.”
Black Bear closed the concert by singing a traditional Lakota song in native tongue that captured the hearts of the audience
Organizers plan to make the concert an annual event.
White Buffalo Calf Woman Society:
Custer Lutheran Fellowship:
Rosebud Tribe website:
U.S. Department of Justice report: “American Indians and Crime” report:
The White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, Inc.
“Domestic Violence Is Not A Lakota Tradition.”
Shelter & Safe Home Available for Emergencies
Women’s Support Group
Mon. & Wed., 7-8pm Sat. 11am-12pm
Sexual Assault Survivors
Every Monday 2-3pm
Men’s Re-Education Group
Every Wednesday 6:30-:30pm
Serving Battered Women & Children Since 1977.
White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, Inc.
Tillie Black Bear, director
North Main St.
For Men’s Program please call 605-856-4666