The path to a unified community

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People marching in parade holding banner that reads "Wagner Horizons building community one relationship at a time." After using dialogue to address poverty and build prosperity, residents of the rural town of Wagner, S.D., realized that there was something holding them back from making real progress: they needed to address the long history of racial inequity and tensions between the white people living in the town and the American Indians living nearby.

The racial tensions run deep, spanning many generations. In 2008, they began the first of many ongoing rounds of dialogues to address divisive issues in a peaceful manner. Eliminating racism and unpacking historical trauma won’t happen overnight, and Wagner residents are committed to achieving their vision a unified community.

Subtle changes can be seen throughout the town: Some American Indians have invited white people to attend traditional events and ceremonies. A movie theater owned by a white person displays a “Thank you” sign in both English and the local native language. And, more American Indians are moving into town.

Study circles have been implemented in the school system as well. As a result, teachers are more intentional about creating inclusive curriculums. Native symbols and ceremonies are now being incorporated into school functions. More American Indians are attending school events typically viewed as “white,” such as prom.

Efforts are being made to build relationships beyond the study circles through book clubs, film screenings, and informal gatherings of study circles alumni.

Wagner residents can point to many larger successes including:

  • The establishment of a small business incubator. Half of the board members are American Indian, and half are white.
  • The redefinition of the Secretary of Indian Affairs to a liaison between the state government and the American Indian community. This position was formerly housed in the same department as tourism.
  • A significant increase in graduation rates of American Indians, which is now 30%. Before the program, very few American Indians graduated high school.

Read more stories of communities addressing racial equity.


This story is formatted as a one-page printable handout! Use it to inspire community members at your next meeting, or share it with potential funders to show them what's possible.

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September 20, 2013

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Mayme Webb Bledsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership Uses Dialogue to Lift Voices in the Duke / Durham Community 

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.