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Small-town South Dakota rodeo club cancels 'slave auction' after outpouring of anger on social media

The rodeo club in Faith, South Dakota had advertised a "slave/branding auction" for next Monday, until apparently pulling the event. One state legislator says the derogatorily-named charities have been routinely held across western South Dakota.

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PIERRE, S.D. — A so-called "slave auction" fundraiser for a rodeo booster club in Faith, S.D., has been scuttled after social media exploded with anger, calling the longtime event's name racist and derogatory.

The president of the school board in Faith, Scott Vance, told Forum News Service on Thursday, April 21 the event scheduled for next Monday is "not associated with the school." He declined to comment more.

Ann Sundermann, executive secretary of the South Dakota High School Rodeo Association , recited from a prepared statement in a brief phone call on Thursday, saying her group — which is independent from the state's activities association — only learned of the "slave auction" yesterday and said the event had been cancelled.

"I feel bad for the kids," said Sundermann. "The intent was not malicious, and the kids are the ones who are going to suffer."

The event, referred to as a "branding crew auction" on a Faith school calendar and as a "slave/branding auction" in a separate advertisement, was to be held at a local hall and involve club members "auctioning" themselves off to perform chores for locals in the community who would, in turn, donate monies to the local rodeo club.


The charity event was to include a pancake supper and pie auction, as well.

Sen. Ryan Maher , a Republican from Isabel, who represents the legislative district adjacent to Faith, said he'd graduated from high school in the mid-1990s and recalled such auctions in Timber Lake and Dupree. News reports show other "slave auctions" held in recent years in Ft. Pierre and Belle Fourche .

"It was always called a slave auction," said Maher, who has been a vocal opponent of the South Dakota Board of Regents on speech conduct. "The kids would stand up there and an auctioneer would auction off these kids, and the boys would bring $200 or $300, and the girls would bring $100, and we'd go out and brand calves or paint a house, and we'd kind of volunteer the labor."

Asked if — particularly in 2021, following a year of widespread reckoning over racism in America — the name should be altered, Maher disagreed.

"Whatever," he said. "It's just one of those things. It's just a fundraiser, and it's all in fun."

School officials in Faith did not respond to a request for comment. A teacher who, until yesterday, was listed as the Facebook administrator for the Faith High School Rodeo Club did also not respond to a request for comment.

While the events have drawn criticism in the past, none quite as loudly as this week. In one Tweet on Wednesday, the ACLU of South Dakota wrote, "We should not have to explain why the name of this event should be changed."

Rep. Linda Duba , a Sioux Falls Democrat, also called the event "tone deaf" and "blatantly racist garbage."

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