Dozens of young Native American children were accosted with beer and racial slurs thanks to a few unruly hockey fans, in what is now being called a federal hate crime.
For five years Native American students from the American Horse School, a K-8th grade elementary school in Allen, South Dakota, have been invited to Rapid City Rush Hockey games at the Rushmore Civic Plaza in Rapid City. The children were described as some of the best behaved in attendance.
Up until Saturday, January 24, the students had had good experiences according to reports.
That ended during the Rush-Wichita game when during the third quarter the children were subjected to a beer bath and racial slurs. At least one person, and likely several others, seated directly above the children in a VIP suite began shouting racist remarks at the them and doused them with beer. The 57 children had to be escorted by their chaperones from the arena before the end of the game. Justin Poor Bear, a parent and one of the chaperones, detailed the incident in a Facebook post, writing:
"They were getting drunk and around the third quarter they were talking crap to our kids and throwing down beer on some of them, including our staff and students … telling our students to go back to the rez."
Poor Bear's story was corroborated by Andy Hollander, a season ticket holder and former supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, who was seated nearby. Hollander reported that he saw two men in the suite above trying to escalate a conflict with Poor Bear, who was attempting to defend his students. He stated that after the students left the arena the two who were in the suite began handing out beers to other fans and celebrated their actions. He said,
"[They] seemed to gloat over what they had accomplished in chasing the student group from the game," Hollander said.
It has since been discovered that the group which rented the suite is a beer company named Eagle Sales. It's President, Tom Helland, has expressed deep remorse about what happened. Helland had allowed guests from outside the local area to use the suite and was not in attendance with them that night. He has said that he personally apologized to the students and is personally devastated by what happened. Helland later helped organize a makeup hockey game for them to attend later this month.
"I feel terrible about it," Helland said. "Unfortunately, we can’t change what happened. From what I gathered, it was one individual who did most of the inappropriate behavior. I don’t condone it and, if it was one of my employees, they’d no longer be employed."
The students are part of the 21st Century program and have been invited to Rush hockey games for the last five years as a reward for excelling in academics. A police report has been filed by the American Horse School Board and parents of the children who were subjected to the harassment, who believe the event qualifies as a federal hate crime. A statement by the American Horse School about the incident can be found on the home page of their website, here.
Image via Facebook