By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Editor
RAPID CITY –– Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, the visionary, imagined a place that would offer the community a chance to enjoy quiet contemplation on the contributions and achievements of notable Indians who left their indelible mark on American Indian history.
After consulting with a group of advisors, the decision was made to immortalize in bronze four iconic figures, Charles Eastman, Vine Deloria Jr., Oscar Howe and Nicolas Black Elk who epitomize the resilience of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Sioux Nations).
Oglala Lakota sculpture Marilyn Wounded Head created the images that will be sent to the foundry, cast in bronze then prominently displayed in the “First Nations Sculpture Garden” in Halley Park, on land once held in trust by Indians.
Cook-Lynn, president of First Nations Sculpture Garden, Inc. believes this place should not only remind onlookers of the achievements of these distinguished men, but should also serve as a reminder of indigenous connections to this land called He Sapa (Black Hills).
“History is the foundation for this project,” Cook Lynn said. “Indians did not lose the war, we are still here.”
The First Nations board’s quest to secure the perfect location, Halley Park, for the garden was first met with opposition from the Rapid City Parks Advisory Board, whose offices currently occupy the stone structure in Halley Park. They originally voted against the project citing concerns about safe access and parking.
Fortunately an alternate recourse proved successful, the group took their proposal before the Rapid City Common Council who unanimously approved the $800,000 project.
First Nations board members hosted an art/history discussion on Thursday, March 19 at the Dahl Fine Arts Center with presentations by Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, landscape architect Mike Stanley and writer, film director and attorney Charlie Abourezk.
“The reason I am so passionate about this project is that there has been so much negativity in our community over the years and this focus is not on the conflicts,” Kooiker said. “There’s been so much pain that’s been represented over the last 140 years and this project represents the positive.”
Stanley, of 42nd Street Design Studio, the firm hired to conceptualize the garden, said, “It’s been a great project for me, one of the personal benefits for me is I get educated a lot,” Stanley said. “This project really has opened my eyes into Native culture and reframing my idea of that culture.”
Stanley said he has plans to visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and view their collection of ancient Lakota winter counts, as plans are underway to incorporate them into the overall design.
“They have winter counts dating back to 900 AD and to follow that is absolutely amazing. They take into account astronomy and solar movements and stars and art and medicine. All of that is recorded in winter counts,” he said.
Stanley said the most rewarding part of working on this project is that it isn’t just about memorializing the past, “There are two different aspects to a memorial. Memorialize the past which we do a lot and the other idea is when you memorialize education, art and leadership, you memorialize the future and that’s what’s core to this project.”
Abourezk said that art of any kind including literature has a protective place in the world, “Things can be conveyed in art that cannot be spoken in everyday life. Art I believe has a license to disturb and to reveal contradictions in our world and to challenge accepted social truth and to shatter carefully constructed hierarchies.”
Deloria in conversation with Cook-Lynn once said, “Hell, the Indians lived here for thousands of years and didn’t destroy the continent and look what they’ve done in two hundred years.”
“So many of the scholars that we are looking at today are saying something about the 21st Century and how we got here and what it is that we are doing,” she said. “I think that the hundreds and hundreds of Native people that lived here for centuries have a huge history and yet in this 21st Century, we know very little about them.”
“Indians are now beginning to talk, Indians are now beginning to write, Indians are now beginning to make movies. No longer does the military speak for the tribes. No longer does anthropology speak for the tribes. That’s what distinguishes this 21st Century,” Cook-Lynn said and that the project will include a historical timeline.
“Our timeline is going to begin with the Treaty of Fort Laramie. It is not the only treaty, but it is perhaps the most important treaty,” she said. It will be a vertical timeline surrounded by ceremonial flags and would show events in local Native American history and the contributions of the Native American artists and teachers.
Completion of the First Nations Sculpture Garden is set for 2016 as fundraising efforts continue. Another $8,000 was raised during the art/history lesson at the Dahl.
Contributions to First Nations Sculpture Garden should be directed to: FNSG, P.O. Box 9515, Rapid City, S.D. 57709. You may also like them on their Facebook page First Nations Sculpture Garden and make donations on their First Nations Sculpture Garden Website.
(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at [email protected])
-Copyright permission Native Sun News