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LNI draws large crowds

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- For the 29th year, the Lakota Nation Invitational has
surpassed public expectations in sports, cultural activities and knowledge
while bringing the American Indian and non-Indian community together in
healthy activities that promote racial harmony and reconciliation.

This year, for the first time in history, two non-Indian schools topped all
others in girls' and boys' basketball. In spite of cold weather and a light
snow in parts of the state that created slippery roads, the nearly
week-long LNI brought together nearly 2,500 students and their parents and
grandparents.

It took four venues to accommodate all the basketball that was scheduled
for the 32 teams that participated.

Stealth techniques are important for the hand game, a traditional game of
the Lakota people. This cultural activity has become one of the
fastest-growing social and competitive activities in schools and with other
groups. More hand game teams participated than ever before in the LNI.

While members of one team tries to guess in which hand the opposing team
holds bones or sticks, that team tries to distract its opponents with
gestures, jeers, drumming and singing.

Other highlights of the LNI were the language bowl, which tests student's
knowledge of the Lakota language; and knowledge and quiz bowls, which touch
on a variety of subjects from politics and science to social studies and
history.

A juried art show that includes pottery, sculpture, photography, beadwork
and other traditional crafts, painting, drawing and computer art has
consistently drawn large numbers of contestants and this year grew to the
largest yet. Twenty schools submitted entries this year.

The LNI is not without spectacle. The grand entry, with all the basketball
teams and cheerleaders entering the arena behind regaliaclad dancers with
traditional drum groups, filled the entire arena floor with color,
pageantry and cheers from supporters.

This has become the largest gathering of students and athletes in South
Dakota; and with four teams ranked in the state's top 10 this year, the
competition on the court does not disappoint.

Bryan Brewer, Oglala, and the late Charles Cuny started the tournament in
1976 as the All-Indian Tournament to offer American Indian athletes an
opportunity to participate in early and holiday tournaments. Tournaments
across the state would not invite the tribal schools because of fear of
violence. Wounded Knee II in 1973 set the state on edge.

The LNI, as it was later known, started with eight teams and now boasts 16
boys and 16 girls teams.

The first non-Indian team to join the tournament was Custer in the southern
Black Hills. The Custer boys have won the LNI several times; the girls sit
on top as champions for this year's LNI. The irony is that Custer bears the
name of the much-hated Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the dreaded enemy of
the Lakota people.

Since Custer joined the tournament, three other non-Indian teams also
joined.

In past years it has been estimated by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce
that the LNI infuses some $5 million into the Rapid City economy. There is
no estimate for 2005 as yet, but the expectation is for a greater economic
impact and participation for the 2006 or 30th anniversary of the LNI.

As always, the LNI provided plenty of memories this year, on or off the
court or away from the other competitive events. This year, the Pine Ridge
girls, the Lady Thorpes, will remember the drubbing they imposed on the
Crazy Horse girls from Pine Ridge -- the final score was 130 -- 10.

The Custer Wildcats defeated Little Wound from Pine Ridge 39 -- 34 in the
championship game. Todd County Falcons took third-place honors from Pine
Ridge with a score of 85 -- 66 in the girls bracket.

St. Thomas Moore boys of Rapid City, ranked No. 1 in the state, will put
their championship victory in the record books for finally winning the
tournament. The Cavaliers managed second place in 2004, and with a tall and
quick team this year they worked their way to the top over the St. Francis
Warriors of Rosebud who are smaller, but very quick.

Warriors coach Roger Crow Eagle said his team made some mistakes, but they
will work on that for the upcoming season. Cavaliers head coach Dave
Hollenbeck expressed his enthusiasm over the win with one word: "Finally."

St. Thomas More upended the Warriors, 58 -- 44.

Cheyenne Eagle Butte defeated Pine Ridge 37 -- 27 for third place.