South Dakota HS cancels annual ‘Slave/Branding Auction’ after 40 years following complaints

A high school rodeo club in the tiny town of Faith, South Dakota is canceling its annual “Slave/Branding Auction” after decades of tradition over complaints about the name that reportedly came mostly from out of state.

The event is a fundraiser that involved Rodeo Club members offering up their labor to a local rancher who in turn made a donation to their organization. But it was canceled after Glenda McGinnis, host of the local Legion Hall, said she had received dozens of calls from around the country from people demanding to know “how such a racist and hurtful name could be used in 2021.”

“I thought it was a joke. We have the event every year, for about 40 years now,” McGinnis, who is vice president of the Community Action Club, which owns the Legion Hall, told the Washington Post.

“I even got a call from a local cowboy who said: ‘How’s this going down? It’s not right.’ I told him we weren’t doing anything wrong. And he explained, ‘Well, it’s how it was advertised that’s wrong,'” she added.

She added: “I didn’t even think of ‘slavery’ in racist terms. It’s just kids work for free to raise money for their club. Now I see this is a very bad choice of words. But I’m naive enough, I guess.”

The Post managed to find some residents of the area who appeared to be stunned by the four-decade tradition.

“Slave auction? Branding? It’s hateful, racist, and we’re calling it what it is,” said Julian Beaudion, a black state law enforcement officer who is a member of the Coalition for Justice and Equity, an organization that looks at criminal justice issues in the state.

Though McGinnis said she was troubled that the fundraising event was canceled altogether, some went on to suggest that Rodeo Club members simply change the name.

State Rep. Linda Duba D-Sioux Falls, also said that club members could have changed the name and had a chance to do so but “instead they displayed a tone-deafness that is inexcusable,” she told The Post. “We are better than this.”

Other lawmakers in the state, however, were angered by the overt politicization of a tradition that they say has no connection whatsoever to American slavery.

State Sen. Ryan Maher, whose district includes Faith, said the controversy is “absolutely crazy” while essentially telling those who disagreed with the event’s name to bugger off.

“This is western South Dakota. Most people don’t even know we are here; they need to get off their high horse and let these kids be kids and do their own thing,” he told the Post.

“Most importantly mind their own business. We have our culture, and you have yours. If you don’t like ours, don’t move here and don’t come out here,” he added.

In 2018, a rodeo club near Fort Pierre, S.D., refused to change its slave auction name because members could not settle on an alternative. Also, the club noted the name was not meant to be denigrating, according to the Capital Journal.

At the time, resident David Kastner criticized the name and encouraged club members to change it.

“Fort Pierre Rodeo Club, you could’ve easily come up with a dozen other more applicable/appropriate names for your event. For shame,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

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Jon Dougherty

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