In 1989, the South Dakota legislature, after a proposal by Governor George S. Mickelson, changed Columbus Day to Native American day, to honor the more than 70,000 American Indian residents in the state. Also part of the proposal was making Martin Luther King’s birthday into a state holiday. Since 1990, the second Monday in October has been celebrated in the state as Native American Day.
South Dakota has a rich American Indian culture and heritage. The state is home to tribes such as the Flandreau Santee Sioux in Flandreau, the Oglala Sioux in Pine Ridge, and the Cheyenne River Sioux in Eagle Butte.
Every year, a celebration takes place at a still controversial venue to celebrate South Dakota’s far-sighted recognition of its American Indian heritage and history — the Crazy Horse memorial. Begun in 1948 by sculptor Korczack Ziolkowski, and continued by his wife and family after his death in 1982, the depiction of the legendary Oglala Lakota leader has no shortage of detractors. Regardless of whether you are for or against the massive mountain carving, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, which was dedicated at the 1996 Native American Day Celebration, has many interesting facets and exhibits for visitors. There is the Indian Museum of North America there, with a 40,000-square-foot Welcome Center.
Celebrating Native American Day at the memorial means being surrounded by singers, dancers, artists, and story-tellers. Champion pow wow dancer and Rosebud Sioux police chief Grace Her Many Horses will be in attendance. There will be plenty of hands-on activities for children as well. It should be noted to anyone considering going, however, that should the weather permit, there will be a thunderous blast on the mountain carving — something they do ever year.
There will also be a free buffalo stew lunch for all visitors, and, once it gets dark, a Legends in Light multimedia laser light show, which turns the mountainside into a huge 500-foot screen for the event.
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