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“Dignity of Earth and Sky” is a fifty-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture of an indigenous woman in Plains-style dress honoring the Lakota and Dakota people.

“Dignity of Earth and Sky” is a fifty-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture of an indigenous woman in Plains-style dress honoring the Lakota and Dakota people.

“This morning set out at an early hour, and come too at ½ after 7 A. M. on the Lard. Shore 1¼ miles above the mouth of a small creek which we named Corvus, in consequence of having kiled a beatiful bird of that genus near it we concluded to ly by at this place the ballance of this day and the next, in order to dry our baggage which was wet by the heavy showers of rain which had fallen within the last three days, and also to lighten the boat by transfering a part of her lading to the red perogue, which we now determined to take on with us to our winter residence wherever that might be; while some of the men were imployed in this necessary labour others were dressing of skins washing and mending their cloaths &c.”

—Meriwether Lewis, September 16, 1804

The waters of Lake Francis Case back up to the boat launch below Big Bend Dam and Lake Sharpe, so there is no free-flowing river between the two lakes. Having dismantled the Contraption to portage the canoes, we now lashed it back together to tackle this next section of the Great Moat across South Dakota. There were a dozen bystanders waiting to see us launch by the time we finished tying all the knots. We enjoyed an easy eighteen-mile day down to Chamberlain, where we took a layover day to tour the town.

Chamberlain is home to St. Joseph’s Indian School, established as a boarding school in 1927. Like most such institutions of that time, St. Joseph’s was founded on the ideology that it was necessary to suppress native language and culture to “help” their indigenous students assimilate into western culture. Children were punished for acts such as speaking Lakota in school.

Times have changed, and St. Joseph’s has too. It is a residential-style school where children live in small family-sized groups in well-kept apartments. Native language and culture are included as part of the daily curriculum, bringing dignity back to the Lakota people. Parents can enroll their students in the school at no cost, providing opportunities they may not have in their hometowns.

St. Joseph’s hasn’t been without controversy, but it is apparently appreciated by families of the two hundred children enrolled there. We toured the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center at the school, which was exceptionally well done for a small museum.

It was also thrilling to see the Dignity sculpture at the rest area by the interstate highway. “Dignity of Earth and Sky” is a fifty-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture of an indigenous woman in Plains-style dress with her arms outstretched, receiving a star quilt. Dignity seems to welcome travelers, as if to embrace all who come to South Dakota.

From the American Creek Campground, it was a 2.5-mile hike up to the sculpture, or 4 miles by my original route in the dark without a map, taking a “short-cut” through the grassy hills and junipers. I knew the general direction as I pushed through chest-high weeds, back-tracked around swamps, stepped over minor crevasses to scale an old slumped hillside, skirted around the cemetery, and finally dashed across the interstate and climbed the grassy hill past the warning sign about poisonous snakes. I made the special trip to see the sculpture lit up at night, then returned by day with Scott to see it again and to tour the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Dignity isn’t a specific woman, but a composite of three different South Dakotan models honoring the Lakota and Dakota people of the state. It was created by South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere and funded by Norm and Eunabel McKie of Rapid City.

I am glad to see the Lakota and Dakota peoples properly honored after two centuries of oppression and cultural suppression. I hope up and coming generations will grow up with pride in the dignity of being Native American.

Our tour of the interpretive center on September 16th coincided with Lewis and Clark’s arrival on the same date, narrowly missing them by just 215 years. They camped on the opposite side of the Missouri near the present day town of Oacoma, taking a layover day to dry and repack their gear.

We were doing basically the same thing, drying wet gear, resupplying and organizing our food supplies, doing laundry, and hiking about the countryside. We ultimately took an additional layover day due to windy conditions on the lake. Where Lewis and Clark went out hunting big game, I hiked nearly four miles out to the I-90 interchange hunting for an ice cream cone, then hitch-hiked a ride back to camp, having walked more than twenty miles during our short stay in this lovely small town.

On the 18th, Lewis and Clark proceeded northward on their Journey of Discovery, while we proceeded southward on our Journey of Rediscovery. We made it out of camp before sunrise, trusting the weather report that the winds would abate. I piloted the Contraption while Chris rode shotgun, or rather bail bucket, continuously bailing water for an hour until the wind and waves finally settled down.

Passing below the Interstate 90 bridge seemed a noteworthy milestone. The last time we saw I-90 was four miles upriver from our initial launch point at Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks, Montana. After three and a half months of traveling north, east, and finally south, it is reassuring to see that we are making measurable progress in our attempt to migrate ahead of the changing seasons.

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Thomas J. Elpel lives in Pony, Montana. He is the author of Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams. Go to www.Elpel.info to learn more about Tom’s books and the Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery.

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