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Former hoops star takes aim beyond the hardwood, believes Lakota museum could help change the world

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Adonis Saltes is the CEO of Lakota Dream Museum & Monument

For years the goal was a metal hoop 10 feet above a hardwood floor.

And toward it, Adonis Saltes shot a leather ball filled with the hopes and dreams of a Lakota boy blessed with smooth dribbling skills and an arching three-pointer.

But now that boy is a 6-foot-2-inch man. And the goal eyed by the 22-year-old business-management major at Southern Utah University is much higher and much wider than playing Division 1 hoops. He’s been there, done that.

So as he works toward graduation this summer, he’s taking aim off the court at what could become the project of his life.

“Oh, so many things — this can mean so many things,” Saltes says. “We could really uplift the Lakota people and put their stamp on history. We could put a lot of money back into the economy of the Lakota people. We want to create workforce development, entrepreneurship, the advancement of art and a much better understanding of our culture and history.”

In a name, Saltes and his associates want to build the Lakota Dream Museum & Monument, right here in Rapid City.

Or, more accurately, right nearby, on property familiar to most people who live in or frequently visit the Black Hills. Saltes won’t identify that land just yet. But he said the Lakota Dream Museum & Monument Board of Directors is close to acquiring it from some very cooperative property owners.

“We’re in negotiations now. We should be closing soon,” he says.

And the owners? They’ll also remain nameless at this point. But Saltes is willing to identify their character: “They’re great people, really amazing people.”

He and his board of directors aren’t bad, either. Members include Jude Schimmel a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon and member — with her sister, Shoni — of the 2013 Louisville University team that made it to the NCAA championship game before losing to powerhouse Connecticut.

Shoni Schimmel went on to the WNBA. Jude played professionally in Spain and might return there. But for now, she has other goals, including Nike speaking tours and, especially, helping Saltes with the museum.

“I’m excited about it. Adonis is doing a great job leading it,” she says. “And I’m honored to be a part of it. This is for Native Americans, of course, but also for everyone, so there’s a better understanding of Native American culture and history.”

Which is not to say Schimmel didn’t have her doubts when she heard about the ambitious plan from Saltes, whom she met while at a speaking event in South Dakota.

“I don’t want to say I was skeptical myself, but it was a big idea,” she said. “Then I got to know Adonis and see everyone who is involved on the board. And it’s really cool because the majority of us are Native Americans so that makes it unique. Also, the diversity, the knowledge that everyone brings to the table.”

It’s a table full of possibilities and people with the experience and the resources to get things done. Other board members are:

Cody Toppert, former pro basketball player and head coach of the Northern Arizona Suns of the NBA G League; Leroy Breinholt, president and designated broker of Commercial Properties, Inc., of Phoenix, Ariz; Ruben Cantu, a young entrepreneur and media specialist from Austin, Texas; Floyd Hand of Pine Ridge, a descendent of both Crazy Horse and Red Cloud; advisory board members Julian Brave Noisecat, a writer and policy analyst in the climate-change movement, and Bruce Bonfluer, founder and director of Lakota Hope Ministry in White Clay, Neb; and honorary board member, Pine Ridge native and 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter-run champion Billy Mills.

Partners include the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Native Hope, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, Black Hills Area Community Foundation, Kuiper LLC and O'Rourke/Badlands Enterprises LLC.

They have secured non-profit status and a working staff of talented Native Americans that includes a museum collection manager, head architect and development director. Saltes says the group hopes to have the land acquired within the next few months, with a goal of beginning work on the museum — in itself expected to cost more than $6 million — by 2020.

And in the process, Adonis Saltes will be coming home to his western South Dakota roots and maternal family.

His grandmother, Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, is a well-known leader in the suicide-prevention movement and a community activist on the Pine Ridge Reservation. His mother, Laticia DeCory, was a hoops star at Pine Ridge who went on to play basketball at Brigham Young University and run track at Utah State. And his dad, 6-foot-9-inch Fontaine Saltes, is a former basketball star at Pine Ridge, who went on to play at Weber State University.

On his paternal side, Adonis Saltes also has sports inspiration from his grandpa, former NBA star World B Free.

Given his athletic pedigree, expectations were high when he led the Valley High School team in Albuquerque to a New Mexico state championship his senior year in high school. He also won the Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year Award.

At Southern Utah, he played for two years on a program that went through some coaching changes.

“I think I would have been playing a lot as a junior and senior,” Saltes says. “But I felt that entering the business world at this time in my life was the perfect fit for me.

It’s turning out to be a perfect fit for his next big goal in life, too.

“This project, too, is a dream I started to have growing up,” Saltes says.

The early part of that growing up was in Pine Ridge, where he lived and learned and played basketball — indoors and out — until the sixth grade.  From there, family moves took him to Farmington, New Mexico first, then to Albuquerque.

His exposure to different landscapes and different cultures expanded his horizons in important ways, but the powerful pull of the Pine Ridge never went away. Regular family trips home kept the connections strong. And a desire to excel on the basketball court was joined by the growing notion that he was destined for more than hardwood hoops.

Slowly, the idea of the museum took shape.

“It should have been done by now already,” Saltes says. “The Lakota are such a respected group, with leaders like Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. But we don’t have a place to call home in the way this will be home."

Their mission includes offering educational programs and internships and scholarships for Native American youth, with small business loans and workforce development options for young Native entrepreneurs.

The mission also will include bringing home priceless piece of Lakota history and culture, as stated on their website: "The first Native-owned museum that will enable the return of precious artifacts to the Lakota people, bringing to life the histories, cultural knowledge and ancestral experiences to educate future generations."

On that, Saltes says: “We know there are artworks and artifacts scattered around in museums and even in people’s garages. And it’s time we bring that home. I want this to be a primary source where our people can go and learn more about where they come from. I want it to be uplifting.”

It is already uplifting to Saltes, who is in a transition back to Rapid City, where the Lakota Dream Museum & Monument will have its main office, surrounded by the Black Hills and the spiritual power that has long strengthened and inspired Lakota people.

There also will be an office in Pine Ridge, for a continuous reservation connection and to coordinate and hold community events. Saltes was back this week to work on the project, and to do an interview about it with journalist David Rooks, which will be published in the Rapid City Journal next week.

There are a lot more interviews to come, with many media outlets.

It’s all more exciting to Saltes than an overtime game and a buzzer-beating shot at the hoop. Because this hoop is sacred. This shot is life changing.

“This is going to be a really significant project, because a lot of people really don’t know what happened in the Black Hills," he says. “They need to know the truth. We have a chance here to make a really powerful change in the world.”

And for Adonis Saltes, it’s a chance for change that will begin at home.