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Convenience and Lakota culture

PINE RIDGE, S.D. ? Big Bats, a favorite meeting place here, reopened on New Year's Day, 10 months after a March 5 fire destroyed the landmark. It features a new look ? the look of the culture of the Oglala Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

It is a store with a design impacted strongly by Lakota culture and spirituality. The design is not that of some stores displaying some pictures and Indian designs. Big Bats is a culturally designed store from the very foundation. It may approach the designation of a cultural center with a restaurant and gas pumps.

To many people who have traveled through the Pine Ridge Reservation and to those who live there, Big Bats is a must stop for cold drinks, ice cream, food or snacks. After school, young people rehash the day's activities and the sports teams receive good armchair quarterback grilling.

Tribal leaders lunch between sessions of the tribal council and BIA employees frequent Big Bats. The Oglala Sioux tribal offices and the BIA are located across the street from this Pine Ridge landmark.

After the March fire, owners Bat and Patty Pourier vowed to reopen with an even larger store. The two opened the original store in 1990 and remodeled it just six years ago.

"I want to give back to the people. People had no place to go, and many people were out of work after the fire," Pourier said.

There was no question that he would rebuild. When the new store reopened, the people returned to find their favorite table or booth missing, replaced by new furniture that blended into the entire design. The regulars will find their new seating assignment.

Big Bats may look like a convenience store from the outside, but it served more as a community center. The new version raises the bar for design of businesses on reservations. It was created from the roots of the Oglala Lakota culture.

Pourier drew the concept of the new store from his spirituality, something that was missing in the old store. He said he was tired of the colors of the old store.

Pourier said the new design is based on Lakota values and culture and Mother Earth and the environment. The Lakota language appears throughout the store. Asanp Snila identifies the ice cream; Mni the water; soda, frozen foods and the pay phone are all identified by their Lakota names

Lakota elder Ed Starr helped Pourier with many of the cultural aspects of the store.

Pourier said that young people and adults who have limited Lakota language skills can learn something.

A tipi made of traditionally tanned buffalo hide hangs from the ceiling. Mirrored below the tipi and inlaid in the floor are the seven virtues of the Lakota people. Designs on the tipi are a horse, which is important to the Lakota, mountains that represent the sacred Black Hills and a green border that represents Mother Earth.

Wooden beams over the tipi represent the four directions with the appropriate Lakota colors for each.

"When people stop in to have coffee or eat, or when the young people come in they will see the virtues on the floor and then they may think about them and reflect on them," Pourier said.

A 106-foot-long mural created by Rapid City artist Don Montileaux, Pourier's adopted brother in the Lakota way, tells the story of the Lakota people. The mural tells the story in the traditional way but was constructed with lighted panels. It ends with the American flag, a symbol important to the many Lakota veterans. Montileaux also designed the tipi. Ed Man Afraid of His Horses, another of Pourier's adopted brothers, helped create the tipi.

A wall is set aside for old pictures of Lakota people and events. Another area that surrounds half the inside of the building will be used for more pictures. In a new feature, the store will sell books that tell the history of the Lakota and American Indian.

Earth-toned colors and the Lakota decor leave no doubt that this building reflects the culture of the Oglala Lakota people. It is the first of its kind in Lakota country, and may set a standard for cultural design in businesses through Indian country. Pourier wasn't aware of another store of its kind.

Pourier and his family spent months discussing the design of the building. He said they were tired of the old neon and bright colors that reflected modern society more than the Lakota culture.

Bat and Patty designed the store. Patty's brother-in-law Gary Babl was the general contractor. Subcontractor Mike Carlow of Pine Ridge provided 20 workers to complete the project.

The new store, like the old, will be open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. When the old store was destroyed by fire nobody could find a key for the building, because it had never been locked since May 15, 1990.

"We didn't start until July. We put ideas down on paper and had a lot of questions. Some culturally sensitive ideas we didn't do and some other things didn't work out. We took our time to do it right. We got advice from cultural people and used local contractors," Pourier said.