South Dakota Stops on the Way

Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in South Dakota

In the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, you'll find incredible displays focusing on the lives of northern Plains Indian tribes.

“If you are in South Dakota, you are either headed to the Black Hills or to learn about the local culture, and there is no better place to learn it than here,” says Dixie Thompson, museum director.

Start on the museum’s east side and move clockwise to find exhibits on Native American life pre-European Americans, including interactive traditional games like “Hanpapecun,” a guessing game with bones and sticks. One player hides the bone piece in one hand or the other, attempting to trick the opponent. The opponent has to guess which hand has the bone and looks for facial expressions or nervous tics for clues. Players use the counting sticks to number their victories

Traditional games were an essential part of Lakota life before the introduction of European and American non-Native games in the late 19th century, says Thompson. Some games were played only by adults or only by children. Some were for girls. Others were for boys. Games could have social, economic or spiritual significance and many generated humorous stories.

Games brought people together, stimulated social interaction and strengthened social bonds. They also taught skill, patience, cooperation, measured competition and endurance – virtues important to being a good Lakota.

Tipi exhibit at the Akta Lakota Museum in South Dakota
Tipi exhibitCourtesy Akta Lakota Museum

Move south to reach “Two Worlds Meet,” which details the arrival of Euro-Americans like traders and settlers. It marks a transformation from the use of organic objects to those manufactured. Metal knives replaced bone knives.

Farther west is “Broken Promises,” detailing U.S. government involvement with Native Americans before you come full circle to “Continuity and Change,” which highlights Native American artists like Arthur Amiotte, one of the most renowned Native American artists today.

Artwork at the Akta Lakota Museum in South Dakota
Collection of native artwork at the museumCourtesy of Akta Lakota Museum

The museum is part of the St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, S.D. Call in advance to schedule a tour of the school.

For more information:
(800) 798-3452
1301 N. Main St., Chamberlain, S.D.