Rapid City, SD, celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day with parade, powwow

Native American fancy dancing
Dancers perform at the Black Hills Powwow.

With the sacred Black Hills embrace, observing Indigenous Peoples Day feels more special this year. Spending the weekend in Rapid City celebrating Native America at the Black Hills Powwow and the city’s annual parade, as well as visiting Native American attractions, filled my heart with love.

Native American Day parade

With Native Americans dominating the crowd, more than 1,000 people lined Main Street in downtown Rapid City to watch dozens of floats and marchers observe the holiday over a five-block stretch. Different than your typical  Independence Day and Labor Day parades celebrating American patriotism and workplace successes, the hour-long Native American Day (as it’s known in South Dakota) parade’s floats centered on issues facing Indian Country – Murdered and Missing Women and Men, remembering children killed and buried in unmarked graves at former residential/boarding schools, domestic violence, water rights, and retaining traditional languages, among them.

Native American woman walks in the parade with red hand print to signify MMIW
A woman marches in the Native American parade with a red-painted hand over her face to represent violence against Indigenous women.

But, it was also time for Native pride, with some floats celebrating a common theme of “being seen.” Miss He Sapa Wacipi (the powwow’s reigning princess) and other royalty smiled and waved as they passed the crowds. Veterans carried an eagle staff, as well as tribal and American flags.

Children hold pumpkin buckets to store candy from the parade.
Children hold pumpkin buckets to store candy from the parade.

It was also a time to share candy and other fun items with children. Holding orange plastic Halloween buckets, pillow cases and bags, children scurried to grab sweets, such as lollipops, taffy and candy bars, tossed on the street. Participants dressed as dinosaurs and super heroes also placed candy directly into their bags.

Native Americans walk into the dance arena during Grand Entry.
Native Americans walk into the dance arena during Grand Entry.

Black Hills Powwow

Disclaimer: We were compensated by Travel Iowa for our stay. However, all opinions and views are ours.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Rapid City Visitors and Convention Bureau for hosting us. However, all opinions and views are ours.

Following the parade, thousands packed Summit Arena at The Monument to watch more than 1,100 dancers take center stage at the 34th annual Black Hills Powwow (wacipi to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota). With sessions Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there was plenty of music (about a dozen drum groups from around the United States and Canada), dancers performed in a variety of dances including men’s and women’s traditional, jingle and fancy. Dancers also competed for cash prizes.

Watching the Grand Entry is always special. Led by veterans carrying an eagle staff, along with tribal flags and those of the United States and the military services, dancers in their colorful regalia entered the dance arena to the educational, and often humorous, comments from the lead announcer. The Grand Entry began with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but was eventually adopted by Native Americans for powwows.

As dancers, ranging from young to senior elders, performed, audience members watched, visited with family and friends and ate food, such as Indian tacos, pulled pork and walking tacos (taco ingredients mixed with Doritos chips in a snack-sized bag).

While the powwow was the main feature at the He Sapa Wacipi Na Oskate, dozens of vendors sold handmade jewelry, Native-inspired clothing and accessories. Community groups also shared information, such as social and health-related services and educational opportunities.

Table of beaded medallions
Handed-beaded medallions could be found at a vendor’s booth.

Native American businesses

While in Rapid City, I was excited to visit Dakota Drum Company. Home to handmade drums used by drum groups, as well as for decoration, Sonja Holy Eagle has hand painted drums, created from buffalo hide. It can take up to six months to create drums used during powwows. Wood must be formed to fit a drum, then buffalo hide is hand-scraped, fitted and then decorated. The store, which also features hand-painted art, sage, sweetgrass and jewelry, has been located in downtown Rapid City for more than 20 years.

Hand-painted powwow drum
A hand-painted drum is one of the many Native American items on display at Dakota Drum Company.

Across the street from Dakota Drum, Prairie Edge has served as a trading Post for decades. The store has created an opportunity for artists to sell authentic Native American-created art and clothing, as well as crafts,, including beads. A collection of hand-sewn star quilts is located near the front of the store, along with Indigenous-inspired Pendleton blankets. The trading post also sells non-Native-created items (identified as such), including head dresses and paintings.

Public art

Public art celebrates Native Americans with sculptures and murals in Art Alley. Mitayuke Oyasin (We are all related) is located at 5th and Main, near Dakota Drum. Across the street, in front of Prairie Edge, a sculpture showcases a grandmother placing an eagle feather plume in the hair of a child, signifying the relationship between two-legged and four-legged relatives. The Dale Lamphere-created statue replaced one of a Native American man with his hands tied behind his back. That sculpture’s message focused on the loss of  freedom for Native Americans.

Native American grandmother puts eagle feather plume in girl's hair.
Native American grandmother puts eagle feather plume in girl’s hair.

Art Alley, a popular spot for muralists and street artists, features a lot of pop culture works, as well as art respectful of Native Americans, including an image of Sitting Bull.

Crazy Horse Memorial

A visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial reminded me of the impact the warrior chief continues to have on generations of Indigenous people. Watching the mammoth tribute continue to take shape, the artist’s vision becomes clearer each year. It means much more to its supporters that the Crazy Horse team continues to build the memorial through private donations, eschewing government funding.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Construction on the Crazy Horse Memorial takes longer than other projects because its foundation prefers to pay for the project through donations.

Locals observed the holiday with a “Remember the Children” walk, honoring children killed and buried in unmarked graves at boarding schools.

While I appreciated being in Rapid City for the holiday weekend – South Dakota was the first state to officially recognize Native American Day – it drove home the fact that my home state does little to celebrate its Indigenous history and influence. But, for this moment in time, I’m grateful to be in the Black Hills, celebrating being Native American.