By: Marcus Heerdt/Fall River County Herald-Star

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK – On Monday, Oct. 9, Wind Cave National Park celebrated South Dakota’s Native Americans’ Day with informative talks, hoop dancing, a sculpture dedication, food, and much more. This year’s event theme was “Culture Through Art: A Celebration of Native American Expression.”

In South Dakota since 1990, the second Monday in October has been observed as Native Americans’ Day. Then-governor George S. Mickelson proclaimed the year 1990 to be the “Year of Reconciliation.” The enacted law states that “Native Americans’ Day is dedicated to the remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state.”

One of the highlights of the day was the dedication of the “Sacred Hoop” sculpture by award-winning Oglala Lakota artist Kelly Looking Horse. The sculpture is located inside the park’s visitor center and is more than 20 feet high, spanning two stories. The dedication began with a prayer and smudging ceremony, followed by remarks from Looking Horse who talked about the meaning of his sculpture.

The lower level features a sweat lodge structure covered by a bison hide. This section of the sculpture tells the story of the Lakota emergence, birth, life, death, and cultural values. In the emergence oral history, bison lead the Lakota out from Wind Cave, thus developing a culture rooted in a mobile lifestyle and the movement of the bison. Moving upwards, the second piece of the sculpture features a tipi, which symbolizes life on earth. The poles of the tipi represent a foundation for life. The final section of the sculpture is high up in the skylight of the visitor center, and represents the cosmos above as well as important constellations that embody Lakota values, concepts, and different locations in the Black Hills.

In the afternoon, world-renowned hoop dancing sisters Starr Chief Eagle (Brave Star Woman), a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Jasmine Pickner Bell (Good Road Woman), a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, put on a performance on the lawn in front of the park’s visitor center. Both were taught hoop dancing by their father, Dallas Chief Eagle, who is known as “a recognized master of the Lakota hoop dance.” Starr said that the hoops she uses to dance tell the story of her life.

Funding for the event, as well as the “Sacred Hoop” sculpture, was provided by the Black Hills Parks and Forests Association, a non-profit partner of Wind Cave National Park.

On a different note, Wind Cave’s elevators that are used for cave tours, which have been out of service since early August, were repaired in time for the day’s events, as cave tours resumed on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The park’s limited winter cave tour schedule begins Sunday, Oct. 15, with the Garden of Eden Tour offered at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., as well as the Fairgrounds Tour at 1 p.m. However, the entire elevator system will be replaced sometime in 2024. According to the park service, information about closures and tour impacts will be provided as the construction schedule is determined.

The Sacred Hoop sculpture. Funding for this exhibit was provided by BHPFA.