Erasing Indian Country: Native Urban Space and the 1972 Rapid City Flood
In June 1972, a flood tore through Rapid City, South Dakota and the surrounding Black Hills, killing at least 238 people, a disproportionate number of them Native people. Many whose lives and homes were destroyed lived in neighborhoods perilously close to the banks of Rapid Creek, including the vestiges of a Native neighborhood known as Osh Kosh Camp. This article asks why those people lived in that place at that time. I argue that White Americans racialized certain spaces, including urban spaces, under the conceptual framework of Indian Country as part of the process of settler colonialism. As a result, the American project of racializing western spaces attempted to erase Native people from Rapid City and its history. Despite this, Native people continued to live and work in the city throughout the twentieth century. After the flood, Native people had less access to recovery funding despite bearing a disproportionate cost from the disaster, and city officials did not take the needs of the city’s Native community into account when planning for Rapid City’s recovery. Despite the goals of White settlers, the attempt at erasing Indian Country failed. The Flood and its aftermath helped galvanized Native protest and resistance in the Black Hills.
Western Historical Quarterly