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Reflections on the Dignity Dedication

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The dedication celebration of the Dignity Sculpture near Chamberlain
The dedication celebration of the Dignity Sculpture near Chamberlain

Journalists can fall prey to cynicism. We try and cover the good things in the world, but we're also tasked to cover the bad. And there’s a lot of bad: childhood cancer, teen suicide, forest fires that destroy lives and homes, pollution, endemic poverty, greed, corruption, bureaucracy, prejudice, racism, lies and the awful minute details of unspeakable criminal acts. Some of the things I’ve covered over the years leave me shaking my head in disgust wondering where all of this is going.

On Saturday morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m., hopped in a car and drove to Chamberlain, SD. My assigned task was to cover the dedication of the Dignity Sculpture. It’s a monumentally gorgeous piece of art. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a sculpture like this can’t be properly described. Any attempt to capture this awesome work of art in a few words would diminish it. You just need to go see it for yourself.

After arriving, I wanted to get good sound of the Lakota drum group who are singing as a procession of young dancers come down a grass aisle in the middle of a bunch of folding chairs. The young people dance up the aisle in full pow wow regalia: jingle dresses and traditional clothes, including elaborate fur, leather, beads and feathers. These kids are amazing. As they dance, waves of energy reverberate off them. They have smiling faces and radiant eyes. They move with all the joy and freedom of youth.

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It’s in these few moments that all the cynicism I probably shouldn't harbor as a journalist melts away. Suddenly, black-and-white images flash in my head back to the photos I've seen of their ancestors. Photos of the warriors who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn taken at Sylvan Lake back in the 1940s by Bill Grothe. Photos of rodeos, powwows, and parades taken during the turn of the last century of Lakota and Dakota people sometimes dancing or marching on dusty streets, fields, and fairgrounds. And I'm struck by these thoughts: here today these young people are coming together with a huge crowd of both Natives and non-Natives to celebrate this living culture. And maybe, I think, just maybe, these young people have a better and brighter future here in South Dakota than their relatives of the recent past.

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With this thought there's a lump in my throat and suddenly I'm fighting back tears. Embarrassed, I look down and pretend to fiddle with my audio recorder while I discreetly wipe the corners of my eyes. When I look back up I’m surprised to notice others in the crowd who are also visibly moved. Some of them also fight back tears while some are openly crying, and I’m reminded – there is hope. There is a great deal of hope. Because there are amazing people doing amazing things across the state right now. People who are working hard to put their communities before their own interests in places like Pine Ridge, Rapid City, Cheyenne River, Sioux Falls, Lemmon, Rosebud, Standing Rock and here now at this Dignity Sculpture celebration on the bluffs of the Missouri River near Chamberlain.

So many of the speakers at the event captured the hope in an eloquent way. You can listen to an audio version of this blog followed by excerpts of some of the speakers below: