North Dakota leaders vow no tolerance for racist taunts at sporting events, warn of deeper bigotry

Two incidents prompted Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Rolette, to propose a resolution regarding expectations of proper spectator conduct, as well as consequences for violating those expectations.

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Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Rolette, is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
Isabelle Ballalatak / N.D. Newspaper Association

BISMARCK — Racist comments made at high school basketball games in Jamestown and Dickinson recently have sparked broad discussion on sports conduct and what may be a deeper race issue in North Dakota.

In a game between Jamestown High School and Bismarck High School on Jan. 31, a video captured students in the Jamestown fan section yelling the N-word and making monkey noises toward a Black player from Bismarck, as well as scalping motions toward a Native American basketball player.

On Feb. 11, Turtle Mountain High School traveled to Dickinson for a basketball game where students of color were subjected to racial taunting, with one individual mocking the Native American culture by doing a dance.

These two incidents prompted Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Rolette, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, to propose House Concurrent Resolution 3022 to the House Education Committee, to consider studying and clarifying expectations of proper spectator conduct, as well as consequences for violating those expectations.

Davis told the committee that the two incidents were not rarities.


“Now if these were the only two incidents that ever happened in North Dakota, I wouldn’t be here,” Davis testified. “Unfortunately, it has been happening for decades.”

In an interview, Davis said she experienced racist comments when she played basketball in the early 1990s.

Four other testimonies were submitted to the House Education Committee, each containing personal experiences with racism targeting student-athletes.

Steve Koontz, director of community relations at Bismarck Public Schools, said in an interview that the incidents have sparked collaboration between schools to avoid instances of racism and bigotry in the future.

“I know there has been some discussion and collaboration between Jamestown and Bismarck Public Schools, (and) our Indian education director has been in touch with them,” Koontz said. “There are always opportunities for education that would hopefully prevent these behaviors in the future.”

When asked why students may feel enabled to make racist comments, Knootz said, “I hope that students would know better. When you’re dealing with students that age, there are maturity factors that play a role.”

In an interview, Marcus Lewton, superintendent for Dickinson Public Schools, said that their athletic director visited with students after the Jamestown vs. Bismarck incident to remind them of the importance of good sportsmanship, only for the Turtle Mountain High School incident to occur less than two weeks later.

In response to the controversy, the North Dakota High School Activities Association has updated its code of conduct. The new rules include prohibiting the use of artificial noise makers such as whistles and cowbells during games.


The new rules also prohibit the use of profane language, including racist remarks, during games with the penalty of immediate removal from the activity if violated.

Davis said in an interview that she is disappointed by the response, or lack thereof, from administrators and referees when these events occur.

“Why are we sitting on the sidelines and saying ‘I didn’t see that” or ‘I didn’t hear that,’” Davis asked. “No, the whole gym heard it, it’s on video.”

Davis said she has even experienced racism working in the Legislature, earlier in this session. She was serving on the Political Subdivisions Committee discussing HB 1155, a bill relating to sanctuary status. During the discussion, someone asked how the bill would affect tribal nations.

“There was a representative there … He looked directly at me and said, ‘Why are Indians even considered United States citizens anyway?’” Davis said.

“That comment hurt. I wanted to scream and shout. But I knew this was on record, and if this ever came back, he would have to answer for it. I did my best to educate him and move on.”

Davis said she is doing all she can as a state representative to put an end to these types of incidents. “We all know better, let’s do better” Davis said.

House Concurrent Resolution 3022 was received in the Senate on March 14. To track the resolution, visit .


Isabelle Ballalatak is a reporting intern with the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

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