Native Sun News: Native monument in Rapid City gains ground

The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy, Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn would like to see Halley Park which comprises the eastern end of the portion of Rapid City referred to as “the Gap,” where West Rapid merges with downtown, become an area dedicated to four sculptures of well-known Native American leaders from the past.

Monument board holds court with mayor
Rapid City park proposal gains ground
By Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor

RAPID CITY – A proposal for a Native American monument in this city’s smallest park continues to make headway.

The board of directors for what is officially known as the “First Nations Sculpture Garden” project met Nov. 21 with Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker at the City/School Administration Center, located in the downtown area at 300 6th St.

First Nations Sculpture Garden board members present at the meeting included the project’s founder, Hunkpati Dakota (Crow Creek Sioux) author and scholar Elizabeth Cook-Lynn; Florestine Kiyukankpi Renville, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate member and charter member of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society of South Dakota State University in Brookings and Sisseton Wahpeton College on the Lake Traverse Reservation; A. Gay Kingman, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member and executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association in Rapid City; Emma Featherman-Sam, Oglala Sioux Tribe member and OST Transit founding employee; and Shirley Apple Murphy, Oglala Sioux Tribe member and president of Taspan (which translates as apple in Lakota) creative media consultants in California.

Also present for the hour-long meeting were Rapid City Council Ward 5 Alderwoman and President Bonny Petersen and Parks & Recreation Department landscape designer Alex DeSmidt.

The board of directors discussed with the mayor the procedure that needs to be followed in presenting its proposal for initial approval by the city’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, then to the mayor and city council for final approval.

Cook-Lynn, along with the rest of the monument proposal’s board, would like to see Halley Park, which comprises the eastern end of the portion of the city referred to as “the Gap,” where West Rapid City merges with downtown, become an area dedicated to four sculptures of well-known Native American leaders from the past. The bronze or stone busts the board is working to have enshrined on pedestals in Halley Park include Oglala Lakota Black Elk, or Hehaka Sapa, a wicasa wakan (holy man); world-famous Ihanktonwan (Yanktonai) Dakota-Santee artist Oscar Howe; Ihanktonwan Dakota activist, author and musician Zitkala-Sa (Red Bird), who was also known by the Christianized name of Gertrude Simmons Bonnin; and scholar Vine Deloria Jr., another Ihanktonwan Dakota.

Oglala Lakota artist Marilyn Wounded Head has been selected to sculpt the busts and is assisting with the monument’s final design as well.

Cook-Lynn, who is professor emerita of Native American studies and English at Eastern Washington University, has also proposed flying red, black, green and white flags above the memorial to represent the primary colors used in indigenous ceremonies.

Halley Park sits on what was once land held in trust by the federal government for the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires (Great Sioux Nation), Cook-Lynn explained, after the Sioux Treaty of 1868, which is more commonly referred to as the Treaty of Fort Laramie, was illegally violated by the federal government following the discovery of gold in the sacred Paha Sapa, or Black Hills, in 1874. Legally entered into between the U.S. government and the Oceti Sakowin, the treaty originally guaranteed the Paha Sapa to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota in perpetuity.

She said many Native American families once lived in the area of Halley Park prior to the construction of Mount Rushmore, which ended in 1941, and Rapid City becoming a tourist haven. “The city didn’t want all those unsightly Indians living in what was basically an Indian ghetto,” Cook-Lynn said, “so that’s when they all got moved to the north side of Rapid City.”

This one-time Indian ghetto of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, along with the “Pap” Madison cabin that once sat in Halley Park as a testament to the city’s white settler past, is what ties the First Nations monument proposal to this particular piece of Rapid City, said Cook-Lynn.

Built in 1876, the cabin now sits on the grounds of The Journey Museum on the city’s north side, having been moved there earlier this year. The cabin’s relocation is what initially inspired Cook-Lynn’s First Nations Sculpture Garden vision, as both a contrast to and a representation of a shared indigenous and non-indigenous past in this area.

She says a First Nations monument – which she does not want relegated to a tourist attraction – would also serve as a fitting intellectual and cultural tribute to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people who first inhabited the region of the Paha Sapa as well as what has become the state of South Dakota.

DeSmidt told Cook-Lynn that this information regarding the significance of Halley Park as the proposed project site should be included in the board’s formal written proposal to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, which needs to approve the project at the fundamental level, or give it its “blessing.”

Kooiker informed the board that a formal memorandum of understanding needs to be entered into between the city of Rapid City and the First Nations Sculpture Garden Board of Directors, primarily to clarify roles and responsibilities of the two bodies as legal entities with regard to the project and to delineate funding sources, projected outlay and time constraints for securing final project funding. The board has not requested any funding from the city to defray project costs; all monies for the project will be secured by the board from outside funding sources, such as foundations and tribal and academic organizations.

The mayor said his main concern about Halley Park as the projected site continues to be whether or not it’s large enough to accommodate such a proposal, including having adequate parking space and being able to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

In addition, he said the project proposal has to be presented to the Rapid City Historic Preservation Commission for review since Halley Park lies within the city’s West Boulevard Historic District.

As directed by Mayor Kooiker at a previous meeting, Cook-Lynn has had a preliminary site plan drafted by landscape architects at 42nd Street Design Studio, a division of Dream Design International Inc., in Rapid City.

There have been recent concerns within Rapid City’s government about the growing number of citizen requests to erect memorials and monuments to deceased loved ones within the city’s parks. Some city administration officials see the requests as excessive and don’t want the city’s parks to become graveyards, of sorts.

Both Petersen and DeSmidt said these concerns do not stem from the First Nations Sculpture Garden proposal request.

DeSmidt added that the First Nations monument represents more of a generalized city art project to honor culture rather than a specific memorial to honor deceased loved ones.

Dec. 13 has been set as the date to revisit the First Nations Sculpture Garden Board of Directors’ progress with Parks & Recreation Department landscape designer DeSmidt at the department’s administration building – which was at one time the Sioux Indian Museum and managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior – located in Halley Park, 515 West Blvd. The Sioux Indian Museum’s collection of cultural artifacts is now part of The Journey Museum at 222 New York St.

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at

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