Native Sun News: Native monument in Rapid City moves ahead

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

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

A. Gay Kingman

Bonny Petersen
First Nations monument proposal moves forward
Rapid City project’s board holds first meeting
By Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor

RAPID CITY – A proposal for a First Nations monument in the heart of Rapid City is steadily progressing.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a Hunkpati Dakota (Crow Creek Sioux) scholar and author, called together an inaugural meeting of her First Nations project’s board of directors Oct. 10. The meeting was held at Cook-Lynn’s residence off West Highway 44, just outside of Rapid City.

The board met to outline preliminary steps in making the Halley Park project a reality. This past spring, following the removal of the “Pap” Madison cabin from Halley Park, Cook-Lynn envisioned a new monument for Native Americans in Rapid City’s smallest park – formally calling it a “First Nations Sculpture Garden” – that pays tribute to the cultural and intellectual contributions of the region’s indigenous peoples – the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota.

The professor emerita of Native American studies and English at Eastern Washington University would like to see the four-acre 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 major sculptures of well-known Native American leaders from the past.

The bronze or stone busts she 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, who has agreed to be the project’s sculptor, sketched draft images of the busts, which Cook-Lynn distributed at the Oct. 10 gathering.

In May, Cook-Lynn initially presented her First Nations monument proposal to the city’s Parks & Recreation Board – but she says her idea wasn’t met with much enthusiasm on the part of Parks & Rec.

Early last month, she also presented her proposal to Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, the city council’s Ward 5 Alderwoman and President Bonny Petersen and then-interim director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department Lon Van Deusen. All three city officials expressed concerns with Cook-Lynn’s proposal: Kooiker wondered if the location is big enough to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; Petersen thinks the project should be a tourist venue – which isn’t what Cook-Lynn wants – and Van Deusen, whose temporary position has since been filled by Jeff Biegler, wanted community input before the project moves forward for a final decision by Parks & Rec and city council.

Additionally, Cook-Lynn said she was directed at last month’s meeting to obtain a pro bono site plan drafted by a local landscape architect of her choice, which she has done. Dream Design International Inc. of Rapid City drafted a preliminary site plan of the First Nations Sculpture Garden in Halley Park, which Cook-Lynn distributed at the Oct. 10 board meeting as well.

In addition to Cook-Lynn, First Nations Sculpture Garden Board of Directors members present at the initial meeting included Florestine Kiyukanpi 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 employee; Charleen Eagle Elk, Oglala Sioux Tribe member and OST Department of Transportation employee; Shirley Apple Murphy, Oglala Sioux Tribe member and president of Taspan (“apple” in Lakota) Consulting Co., a Native American-oriented creative media firm based in El Cajon, Calif.; and Edward Valandra, Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) and Native community consultant.

Honorary board member Randy Ross, an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe, also was in attendance at the inaugural meeting.

Rapid City Council member Petersen and Deborah Gangloff of Rapid City, who serves as a consultant for the First Nations Sculpture Garden board, were present as well. Petersen, however, declined Cook-Lynn’s offer to serve as a board member as she indicated it would be a conflict of interest since she will eventually be reviewing the project proposal for approval or disapproval as a city councilor.

Sitting members of the board not present for the Oct. 10 meeting include Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, retired Native Sun News founder; John Goes In Center, Oglala Lakota artist; Mario Gonzalez, Oglala Lakota attorney; and other members of Oak Lake Writers’ Society, which is comprised of almost 20 Lakota, Dakota and Nakota writers from throughout the region.

Additional honorary board members include Sandy Swallow, Cheryl Crazy Bull, Jim Yellow Hawk and Gerald Yellow Hawk.

Kingman said Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, which is made up of tribes from throughout the Northern Plains, is on board with the First Nations Sculpture Garden project proposal.

The region’s Native Americans are “not just warriors who were shot to death; we’re not just victims of the massacres – we’re people who have contributed,” Cook-Lynn said in explaining her reasoning for wanting the First Nations monument in Rapid City, the western South Dakota epicenter of what was once strictly the homelands of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. “We have contributed for ages, and anyone who has a sense of that should be on board with us.”

Official business taken care of at the initiatory meeting – which Taspan President Murphy referred to as a “think tank” – included preliminary determination of funding sources, designating a board member to request moral support from South Dakota tribes via formal resolutions, and designating a board member to formulate a written plan to present to Rapid City’s Parks & Recreation Board as well as to city council.

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at

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