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Ground blessing marks Pine Ridge’s first stand-alone museum

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Ground blessing marks Pine Ridge’s first stand-alone museum

Sep 19, 2023 | 11:12 am ET
By Amelia Schafer
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Ground blessing marks Pine Ridge’s first stand-alone museum
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Lakota children gather and sing around a drum during the ground blessing for the new Maȟpíya Lúta, formerly Red Cloud Indian School, Heritage Center on Sept. 14, 2023, in Pine Ridge. (Photo by Amelia Schafer, ICT/Rapid City Journal)

PINE RIDGE — The new Màpíya Lúta, formerly Red Cloud Indian School, Heritage Center will mark the first stand-alone museum on the Pine Ridge Reservation and will feature one of the largest art collections in South Dakota.

“This was one of the institutions that suppressed our culture, but here it is evolving into a place where they’re actually incorporating culture and preserving languages,” said Jhon Goes In Center, Oglala Lakota and a member of the Màpíya Lúta Board of Directors.

On Sept. 14, community members and Màpíya Lúta staff held a ground blessing ceremony at the site of the future building. Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out and several descendants of Chief Red Cloud spoke before the ceremony about the importance of the building and of Màpíya Lúta.

After the ground blessing, Màpíya Lúta students drummed and sang in Lakota.

The current Màpíya Lúta Heritage Center is located in Drexel Hall, the oldest building on the school's campus. After the heritage center is moved community members will discuss the future of the 136-year-old building in Pine Ridge. (Photo by Amelia Schafer, ICT/Rapid City Journal)
The current Màpíya Lúta Heritage Center is located in Drexel Hall, the oldest building on the school’s campus. After the heritage center is moved community members will discuss the future of the 136-year-old building in Pine Ridge. (Photo by Amelia Schafer, ICT/Rapid City Journal)

“This school has produced many leaders, not only for our tribe but nationally, and it will continue to do that,” Robert Ecoffey, Oglala Lakota and president of the Board of Directors, said to the students. “This is a great day for our tribe.”

The building, which is expected to be completed by Summer 2025, has been created by and for the community and will feature an event center, interactive language spaces, a museum and an art gallery.

“We want to elevate new voices, not just history,” said Heritage Center Executive Director Tawa Ducheneaux, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

The current Heritage Center is located in Drexel Hall, one of the oldest buildings on Pine Ridge, constructed in 1887. The building also houses the Jesuits and administration. After the new Heritage Center is built, the administration hopes to turn Drexel Hall into a long-term historic interpretation center.

Back in July, the Red Cloud Indian School was renamed Màpíya Lúta, which in Lakota means Red Cloud. The decision was made to phase out outdated language, reflect the Lakota who use the school and reflect the school’s Lakota language programming.

“We want to honor his (Red Cloud’s) vision for the school and his people,” said Jennifer Irving, vice president of marketing and communications and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota tribe.

The idea to rebrand was sparked in 2019 when the sports teams began using the Lakota name rather than the English spelling. Irving said that many community members often just referred to the school as Red Cloud, leaving out “Indian school.”

“Many people felt that the term Indian was derogatory and didn’t capture the uniqueness of Lakota people,” Irving said.

In the wake of the construction of the new Heritage Center, school officials said they felt this was the perfect time to start thinking about what they’d like to be called.

The school served as a Catholic boarding school from 1888 to 1980 but began slowly closing dormitories in the 1960s.

Over that nearly 100-year span, the school saw lots of changes. In 1967, the Holy Rosary Mission, the school’s first name, began teaching Lakota language classes. The next year, the Red Cloud Art Show began.

In 2019 the school hired its first non-Jesuit leader, and now most board members, staff and those involved with the school are Lakota, many of whom attended the school themselves.

Currently, about 500 K-12 students from the Pine Ridge area attend Màpíya Lúta.

— This story was originally co-published by the Rapid City Journal and ICT, through a news partnership that covers Indigenous communities in the South Dakota area.