What most people would see as a large rock on the top of Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Korczak Ziółkowski saw as an opportunity: an opportunity to show the world that, in the words of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, “the red man has heroes, also.”
Although Ziółkowski’s vision was centered around the eventual completion of a monument that will stand over 600 feet wide and over 550 feet tall when finished, the focus of the monument was meant to be much more than the world’s largest statue. Ziółkowski wanted to build a memorial that would “tell present and future generations the story of Native Americans by displaying outstanding examples of Indian culture and heritage – both yesterday and today.”
As a result, the Indian Museum of North America was founded almost 35 years ago and has grown steadily due to contributions from both Native American tribal members and other non-members. The variety of input over the last 35 years has made the museum a comprehensive representation of the many Native American tribes in North America.
The museum features a life-size Native American tipi, a collection of 63 Native American tribal flags donated by tribes or tribal members, and other important Native American artifacts and artwork. It is also an integral part of maintaining the vision Ziółkowski saw for making the memorial a humanitarian project, not “just a colossal mountain carving.”
The most unique experience the Crazy Horse Memorial has to offer is the annual Crazy Horse Volksmarch that brings over 15,000 people to the memorial in one weekend. This is the only time during the year that people can walk up the mountain and onto the outstretched arm of Crazy Horse to get a true face-to-face experience with Crazy Horse’s 87-foot tall visage.
At times, visitors have the opportunity to view the physical sculpting process of the memorial through dynamite blasts on the mountainside. No other opportunity in the world provides the thrill of seeing a wall of solid rock turned into what will one day be the world’s largest piece of art.
Whether it is the semi-annual “night blasts” featuring a chain of fireball explosions that climb the course of the mountain’s pathways or the scheduled sculpting blasts, it is a sight that truly must be witnessed first-hand.
Another important aspect of the museum is the Native American Cultural Center. Made from actual rock blasted from the Crazy Horse Memorial mountain, the Cultural Center houses Native American artwork and crafts, and a hands-on exhibit for children.
The Indian Museum of North America is managed by the Ziółkowski family and is one of the major attractions to not only visitors of the monument, but also Native American tribal leaders and Native American artists and lecturers.