MISSION, S.D. - With hammers and drills in gloved hands, volunteers braved the cold to build the first of its kind tribal college cultural center - barn-raising style.
Blizzard conditions may have hindered the project, but it didn't stop a team of architectural students from the New York Institute of Technology and students from Sinte Gleska University, from working hand-in-hand with other volunteers to build the new cultural center at one of the college sites on the Rosebud Reservation.
The effort to build 30 centers at tribal colleges across the nation grew out of a community action initiative launched by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which represents tribal colleges throughout the United States. It is designed to bring cultural renewal and revitalization to remote American Indian reservations.
Consortium special projects director Gail Bruce saw her dream become a reality Nov. 10, as she, and many others, hauled and stacked logs for what will serve as a cultural center, archive and museum for the Sicangu Oyate.
Because of the weather - 20 below zero, with beating winds and a snow-closed interstate highway, - the New York students were treated to a two-night stay in the small tourist-oriented town of Wall, S.D.
"I think it bonded them," Mrs. Bruce said.
What was the reaction of the students? Peter Halkias said they were taken by surprise when they arrived in South Dakota, "We came from a place where everything is horizontal to a place where everything is vertical and wide open," he said.
Also in overalls and gloves were Jim Davis, president of Authentic Log Homes, David Snell, consultant with Habitat for Humanity, Lionel Bordeaux, Sinte Gleska University president, and Murry Bruce, an NBC television director.
Davis, whose log-home company donated building materials, said he became involved after he heard Mrs. Bruce's presentation. Smiling, he said, "We signed on right at that point."
Davis said he was most inspired by the fellowship and dedication of the people who were out on the site ignoring the blowing snow and freezing winds. "Everyone was working," he said.
"It's great seeing the community involvement. It's because of the community that it's coming together. They're making it happen."
Davis said he was impressed by the sincerity of the Lakota people, especially when the work crew broke for lunch, "It felt like home."
Bordeaux said the whole project is phenomenal. "It's really something to see. A project of this nature, magnitude and spirit in bringing this large of a group together, goes to show the commitment and camaraderie of all the people involved," he said.
"This cultural center will be a connection to our past. It represents who we are and where we came from and where we are going."
The next project will be on the Pine Ridge Reservation and everyone involved hopes to see all 30 centers completed by the end of next summer