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The Native American Story

4/23/2009
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PIERRE, S.D. - As Native American history grows and continues to capture the interest of travelers around the world, the South Dakota Native American experience provides some of the best travel opportunities and destinations in the world. The prairies and rolling hills of South Dakota provide a home for nine Native American tribes and serve as a backdrop for a history layered with a rich texture of tradition.

For many travelers, the allure of the Native American experience stems from its rich heritage, historical significance, colorful culture and role in the modern world. One of the most visual and moving ways to experience this tradition up-close is to attend a powwow or to visit a location significant to the Native American culture. Tradition reigns supreme at these events with a mixture that blends the traditional ways with the new. Powwows also allow visitors to sample Native American foods, music and atmosphere.

“South Dakota wouldn’t be the state that it is without the significant Native American influence on our culture, and we welcome people from around the world to share that part of our history,” said Richard Benda, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism and State Development. “Visitors have a unique opportunity when traveling to South Dakota to see the places where American history was made and experience the past and the present of Native American culture.”

The Black Hills Powwow is one of the largest cultural events of the year in South Dakota. This three-day festival is held in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, October 9-11. Festivities include: dancing, eating, an art show and much more.

“The Lakota culture is one that is best experienced in person,” said Tina Merdanian of Red Cloud Indian School. “Guests will see the merging of our traditional past with our exciting future at any number of powwows, events or culturally significant destinations. Our culture is stamped and ingrained in both the history and the future of South Dakota.”

Popular Destinations:

  • Oyate Trail: A 388-mile cultural route that leads from the eastern part of South Dakota to the west, covering the cultural heritage and diversity of people who have lived and live in South Dakota.
  • Native American Scenic Byway: This path cuts through the heart of South Dakota’s prairie and follows the Missouri River, extending through the heart of the Great Sioux Nation.
  • Crazy Horse Memorial: A sculptural depiction of the legendary Lakota leader, Crazy Horse, emerging from the side of a mountain in the Black Hills.
  • Native American Art: One of the most significant pieces of the Native American culture is the artwork that its people produce. Visit a number of art galleries and museums to see it in person.

Fast Facts:

  • Today, more than 62,000 Native Americans live in South Dakota where the historic Dakota, Lakota and Nakota culture is prominent.
  • Shannon County, located along the state’s southern border, has the highest Native American population of any county in the United States.
  • At most powwows, visitors will see competitions featuring categories such as traditional, fancy and jingle dress dancing.
  • The Lakota word for powwow is “wacipi,” which means dance.
  • Many of the tribes of South Dakota believe the story of their creation stems from the “Paha Sapa” or the Black Hills – found in western South Dakota.
  • The buffalo was historically one of the most important things in the culture of Native American tribes, and many of the tribes still maintain herds.
  • Wounded Knee can be found in South Dakota and is the site of the last major conflict between the Great Sioux Nation and the U.S. Army.

Links:

Contacts:

Wanda Goodman, (605) 773-3301, wanda.goodman@state.sd.us

* All photos must be credited to the South Dakota Office of Tourism

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