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Wakpa Sica center moves forward

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FORT PIERRE, S.D. - A center for reconciliation, education, judicial issues
and historical interpretation has been a long time in the planning - and
progress is now visible.

The Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place, long a dream and goal of many people
involved with the American Indian and non-Indian community, is now becoming
reality. The center is on the western edge of the Missouri River at Fort
Pierre, S.D., near the site where Lewis and Clark first met the Teton
Lakota, and near where the American Fur Company built a trading center and
fort.

The center will tell the story of pre-Columbian and post-contact life. The
story of the indigenous people who inhabited the area hundreds of years
before contact with non-Indians will be an element in the interpretation of
life of the region.

This is not just a historical interpretive center; it will include
mediation training, the Sioux Nation Judicial Center and Supreme Court, and
an economic development project. The judicial center, although not yet
built, has been active through the University of South Dakota School of Law
by providing training and legal assistance to all 11 tribal courts of the
Sioux Nation. The actual center is not scheduled for completion until 2012.

The Wakpa Sica Historical Society has struggled to get the Reconciliation
Place project off the ground due to funding problems. Initial funding for
the infrastructure and early construction of buildings comes from the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, and it is a struggle when
inadequate funding appears in HUD's budget.

Presently the organization, although unsure of its 2006 funding, is moving
ahead. The cultural and interpretive centers is scheduled for completion in
2007, but by the end of this year the seven tipis that represent the Oceti
Sakowin, or seven council fires of the great Sioux Nation, will be
completed.

The first of the seven tipis was put in place July 5 and represents the
Lakota. The Lakota, or Teton, includes seven bands.

Artist Mark Powers, Dakota, Crow Creek, will paint all seven of the tipi
canvases. Each will tell the stories of the seven council fire members.
Symbols on the tipis and the colors identify each of the seven council fire
members.

The area is near the site where the first white men entered the region to
establish fur trading. The French Verendrye brothers made contact with the
indigenous inhabitants in 1743.

The Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place will be more than an historical site.
Most important to the project is building an understanding and developing
reconciliation between the cultures.

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"Our goal is to forge greater understanding and cooperation among and
between indigenous tribal people and non-tribal people; we will be honoring
the historical differences of perspectives between cultures," stated Wakpa
Sica literature.

In 1990, the late Gov. George S. Mickelson, while attending the 100th
anniversary ceremonies at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, declared a
century of reconciliation. Very little has been accomplished in that regard
since that time, even with the efforts of a number of people, including
former Sen. Tom Daschle.

It was Daschle who, in 1999, wrote and pushed the legislation that
established the Sioux Nation Supreme Court, the Native American Mediation
Center, the Economic Development Center and the cultural center (now under
construction).

Wakpa Sica Executive Director Stacey LaCompte, Standing Rock Lakota, said
that lack of funding in 2005 nearly stopped the project. The defeat of
Daschle played a major role in putting HUD funds in jeopardy.

LaCompte and leaders from the Sioux Nation, along with leaders of the
non-Indian community, spent three days asking Congress to continue funding
the project. LaCompte said when it was learned that the project was moving
forward, the funding was then put into the budget; she added that a grant
writer was hired to seek funding outside the federal pipeline.

Now the tipis will bring a sense of accomplishment, beauty and history to
the site. The first tipi represents the Lakota Oyate, or people. The tipi
is called the Black Buffalo Lodge in honor of Chief Black Buffalo, who was
a central figure in the area.

One tipi will represent the Lakota, four the Dakota and two the Nakota, the
three language groups within the Sioux Nation.

The tops of the tipis will have different colors: blue for Lakota with the
constellations; the Dakota tipis will have brownish and yellow tops,
representing the sunset; and the Nakota tipis will represent the sunrise
with purple on the upper areas.

Each council fire tipi will have a fire pit in front and be lighted at
night. The cultural center and the Wolakota Center are now under
construction.

The Wolakota Center will be a sheltered outdoor festival area, and an area
will be set aside for native prairie grasses and plants.

The Reconciliation Project was authorized by a federal law passed in 2000
and is designed with five components. First, to enhance the understanding
and knowledge of Indian history, then provide for interpretation of the
encounters between Lewis and Clark and the tribes, house a Sioux Nation
Tribal Supreme Court, a Native American Economic development center; and a
national American Indian mediation training center.