Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Akota Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, South Dakota

We began the day at the smallest church we've ever seen. It is actually an addendum to a roadside rest not far west of Mitchell. We thought it was a dollhouse when we pulled off the road, but on investigating, realized it was a little chapel that someone created to give travelers a place to stop.  We did, and we appreciated the effort of this person.

I have no photos to show you of the most wonderful place we visited today, because we were not permitted to take photos inside The Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center.  This is a small but impressive museum at the Saint Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

I did take a few photos in Chamberlain, however, as it seems that it ought to be a movie set.  I felt as if I had traveled back in time there.  It was calm and unsophisticated.  Photos will show you why.  I think the State movie theatre is now a video store, but the Rexall Drug is doing what it did long ago.

 The school was a bit out of town, and I shot a photo of the statue at the entrance to it.  I wish I could show you some of the magnificent sculptures that the Native Americans have on display in the museum, but alas..............                     

Students were spending their Sunday taking walks into town with their teachers or chaperones as we drove into the school. 

Driveway Sculpture
  We learned of this museum from a woman who works at the Welcome Center to South Dakota.  As we entered the state from Iowa and stopped for maps, she mentioned that this was a "gem" in the middle of the state that we might like.

She was right.

A brochure told us that the purpose of this cultural center is to honor, protect and promote the heritage and culture of the people served by the school.  Many of the children come from reservations where culture and history have been lost in the  need to struggle for survival in our economy. The center receives no  federal or tribal funding, so it is supported on donations and the sale of artwork.  You can see some of these items at

We were welcomed by a guide who told us where to start looking at the history of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, following the displays which were in  chronological order around the large circular building.

A huge stuffed buffalo and I stood eye to eye, and I got an idea of what it would be like to be at its mercy.  We've seen them from inside a car, but up close and personal, I knew I would never get out of a car to see one. I'd read, recently, of a tourist who died doing that.

Vintage beadwork on personal items was in cases, with tools and items used long ago by people of these cultures.  Beautiful clothing on mannequins showed us how the styles have changed over the years for them.  Gorgeous stone carvings and pottery were for sale, along with art prints and watercolors.  Some large cases displayed their jewelry and some made by other vendors.  There were woodcarvings and statues.  It was very impressive.  There were books and videos that explain history, culture and language, specific chiefs, and events.  A large children's section was also available.

We learned a bit about the Lakota religion. I loved one quote from a Lakota Elder, about children.

" The child is a person who has just come from the Great Mysterious, and I who am an old man am about to return to the Great Mystery.  And so in reality, we are very close to each other."

Randy and I found a Chester's Chicken store and had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Missouri River at a lovely park in Chamberlain. (Do you notice how much fried chicken we eat?)

Once out of Chamberlain, we began the Drive Across South Dakota to the western side of the state.  We were on the road for several hours, stopping just once, in Murdo, to check out the Town of 1880, briefly, without actually going in and using an hour to "see" it.  We had been there before, actually, in 2004, for breakfast.

I cannot begin to explain how beautiful South Dakota is. The sky was perfectly blue all day today, without a cloud.  In some areas, the land seems to roll in small mounds. Add a few black cattle to the golden ground, and the effect is stunning.  Many round rolls of hay or straw dot the golden, cut fields, and that blue, cloudless sky above it all created a gorgeous scene for most of the afternoon.
(That is not a cloud up top,  it's window glare.)

We passed many fields of dried-up corn, however, and acre upon acre of sunflowers with their heads bent as if in prayer for rain. Cattle grazed on ranches, and it was a lazy and bright day for us as we crept west, totally enjoying the difference in the scenery of South Dakota from  Ohio. Both are beautiful in their own ways.

Sunflower Fields

We drove into Kadoka at what we thought was about 4:30 PM.  Knowing that we are perched at the threshold of places we want to see well and spend time visiting, we decided to get our motel booked.  We checked out a place we had stayed in 2004 and fondly remembered, only to find it closed and looking as if it had been a victim of the Great Depression.  We looked over two others before booking one at the crossroads of two state roads in Kadoka, South Dakota.  If we stand in the parking lot, we can see for miles and miles (as the song goes) in every direction.  Dinner tonight was a hot dog, but we'd had a fun picnic lunch, and there aren't a lot of choices out here for fine dining..................

The kicker came when Randy looked at his cell phone and realized that we must have passed into Rocky Mountain Time Zone, and are now two hours behind our home time zone!  We probably could have travelled for another hour and used that hour...................but who cares, really?

And now to share my two favorite photos of South Dakota today.



 copyright:  KP Gillenwater