Sep 21, 2012 - Racially-Charged Incident at Middle School Volleyball Tournament in Minot, ND: Turtle Mountain Chippewa Parents and Community Want Answers
By : Ruth Hopkins
Minot, North Dakota- On September 15, 2012, at a middle school volleyball tournament at Minot Central High School, young Native girls, who were part of the Belcourt volleyball team, were accused of stealing an Ipod that was allegedly missing. As a result, witnesses say, the girls on the Belcourt team, who are minors, were singled out, verbally assaulted, subjected to racial epithets, and searched by police without a warrant or parental consent. The alleged missing Ipod was never found.
Belcourt, ND lies on the Turtle Mountain reservation, and is home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. It is one of five Tribal Nations located in North Dakota.
Farrah Reopelle is the mother of Rylan Reopelle, a 13 year old girl who is part of the Turtle Mountain Community Middle School volleyball team. She spoke with Lastrealindians about the events in question. The Reopelles are Native American and live on the reservation in Belcourt, ND.
“I went to go watch my daughter’s games and when I got there they were halfway finished with the first game. Once the game was over, the team came and sat in my area of the gym where their personal belongings were as well. As I sat there visiting with my daughter about her game, some girls came over to the coach and told her that a white iPod was stolen from one of the locker rooms. When the girls were leaving, they noticed one of our girls from the Belcourt team with a white iPod and immediately put the blame on her. About five minutes later a police officer and the director of the tournament came up to the coach and young girl, demanding that she give up the white iPod.”
Ms. Reopelle continues: “After the police officer inspected the iPod, he then went onto search a few of the [other] girls’ bags, continuing his search for the missing iPod. No other team was approached with this nor were any other teams’ bags inspected or searched, only Belcourt’s. When the police officer was done searching the bags he left with the director of the tournament. Also, the police officer did not have the common courtesy to pull the coach aside and search bags in a separate room besides the gymnasium where a lot of other people were. It was actually pretty humiliating to witness.”
After these events, the girls on the Belcourt team were then expected to play in a game in another gym on the same campus. They lost that game. Farrah says her daughter came to her in tears afterward.
“My daughter was balling and so upset she could hardly even get the words out to speak. She said one parent from another team had come up to her and called her a “f***ing thief” and that the team members were nothing but “f***ing thieves.” My sister grabbed Rylan and brought her out to the commons area to point out the parent that said this but she was nowhere in sight. We told the coach what had happened, so the coach gathered all the girls to bring them outside to wait for the bus. Upon waiting, that same parent came walking up to enter the school and started talking all kinds of filth. Saying things like, “You’re all ***ing thieves,” “go back to where you came from,” and “we don’t owe you anything,” calling out my sister, and flipping us off. At this point I was on my phone trying to find the number to the police department in Minot and called dispatch. While speaking to dispatch, some of the girls from the Mandan team had come outside and were throwing grapes at myself, while I was completely oblivious as I was furious and on the phone with dispatch.”
The director of the tournament came outside and made the girls apologize. Farrah says she felt as though the apology was insincere, because they lied and made excuses.
The police officer who arrived on the scene was the same police officer who had searched the Belcourt girls’ bags earlier.
Ms. Reopelle says, “We told him what happened. He said he’ll be right back as he was going to talk to the parent who harassed my daughter. When the officer came back he said that the woman had a completely different story and also that she had other ‘issues’ going on. I asked the officer what was going to be done about this and he asked if we were leaving or going back inside to watch more of the games. I told him I would not subject my daughter to such treatment nor put her in that situation again. He said he also told the woman to stay away from the team and parents. In my opinion, the woman should have been removed and not permitted back onto the premises for verbally assaulting a minor with such filth. This scenario should not even have taken place and the way the officer handled it was completely unprofessional.”
According to Jeremy Leducer, this isn’t the first racially charged incident to occur on Minot school grounds. He says that one of Belcourt’s star wrestlers, as well as his mother, was verbally attacked by a man at a school event in Minot less than a year ago. After that racially-charged incident, the Minot Athletic Director and Superintendent were contacted. Mr. Leducer says they “made verbal assurances to the Belcourt School District that it would not happen again.”
The University of North Dakota was asked to retire its Fighting Sioux nickname after the NCAA found that it was hostile and abusive towards Native Americans.
Farrah reports that the girls were traumatized by the incident. “They had another game and while playing, they were out there like a deer in headlights. The coach, Marlene LaFloe, noticed as well. She even asked Athletic Director Shane Martin to come and give the girls a pep talk after their game.”
As of this morning, Lastrealindians has not received a comment from the Minot school administration in response to the incident.