National Park Series - Mt. Rushmore Village
Dakota Digest - 09/23/2009
By Jim Kent
Millions of people travel to Mt. Rushmore for one primary reason - to see the massive carved faces of four U.S. presidents - up close and personal. What they don't expect to see are images of the Native American culture - up close and very personal. We continue our series of reports on the national parks in South Dakota as SDPB's Jim Kent visits with a young Lakota woman who considers it a gift to be able to share the culture of her people with visitors to Mt. Rushmore from around the world.
There's something new at Mt. Rushmore.
"In our tipi, we have a buffalo fur....the buffalo fur was used just as a bedding and blankets of the tipi," says Kollette Medcine, "Now, the men, they stayed at the back, that was the chatku.....and the women they stayed on the left side..."
Kollette Medicine explains a traditional tipi at the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota village set up just below the "Four Faces" at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. The village was the brainchild of Mt. Rushmore's superintendent Gerard Baker. Baker is a Mandan-Hidatsa and the first Native American superintendent of Mt. Rushmore. The village was first erected at the memorial last summer.
Baker's goal is to educate visitors about the Native American presence in the area: a presence, says Kollette Medicine, that far pre-dates the presidential images carved in stone.
"The Lakota people....Dakota, Nakota, known as the Sioux nation...they were nomadic," says Kollette Medicine. "They followed the bison, so they lived on the prairies...the original inhabitants of this territory, and they owned the Black Hills, Well, they only came for ceremonial reasons, to honor and bury their dead, and to pray. Those were the only times they came up."
Kollette Medicine is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She learned about her culture from her mother and grandmother - both fluent Lakota speakers. Though she lives in Rapid City, Kollette keeps ties with her family on the reservation and considers herself to be a traditional Lakota woman.
"So, I participate in ceremonies back on the rez, and try and learn...right now I'm really working on my fluenc," says Kollette. "And, so, right now it's just going to ceremonies and reading as much as I can researching. "
When the opportunity to teach about her culture at Mt. Rushmore's Native American village presented itself , Kollettte didn't think twice about accepting the job.
"To me, coming up here...it just feels good to be up here, because...not only just the faces, but....to be back with my ancestors where they prayed. It was their holy time to come. And for me to be up here every day, you know....I love it. It's just...that's why I'm here, because of them. For the faces, it's just accepting it./ You know, yeah, it's on our land...it's on the Black Hills...it's sacred. But still, its...it's sacred to us as citizens, as all brothers and sisters of the United States of America, you know? And to me, that's just accepting it. You know, that's balancing both the Lakota way of life with the European way of life. I'm here because I wanna be," says Kollette Medicine.
But it wasn't always that way. Kollette says there was a time when she refused to visit Mt. Rushmore, because the white man had taken the Lakota land to carve "the faces." But now she's using those faces as a venue to teach people about her culture - past and present.
"And I want to give the visitors a good look at what the Lakota people are...still here today...in positive ways and how we can be successful, too. Like I'm a major of elementary education. And this is my way of molding everyone's, not just the young kids, but all the adults. Telling them how naturally engineered the Lakota people were. About the tipis, the structures, how the bisons and the different parts they used," says Medicine. "And, so, that's my way of telling them, you know, in a positive...'Oh, yeah, we're still here. just as successful as everyone else. You know, we live in houses. We still wear Hanes, just like everyone else, you know. All that, you know, So, that's my way."
Although Kollette Medicine is happy to spend her summer days at Mt.Rushmore's Native American village, there was controversy over its creation from Natives and non-Natives alike. Kollette says she can't speak to the non-Native view, but as a Native American she sees no problem with being Lakota and being a part of the National Park Service.
"You know, we're earthly people, which is Mother Earth,"explains Medicine. "Mother Earth has her own way of showing herself different beautiful ways, antique ways. And, to me, being part of it's a very.... very honor to work with the parks. Because they take good care of us up here and ...it's just good to relate to Mother Earth...Unci Maka."
In the end, says Kollette Medicine, that's what it's all about for a traditional Lakota woman - getting back to Mother Earth. Being able to teach the world about her culture amid surroundings where her ancestors once roamed - is the best way to continue her own path to learning about he people.
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