The four-day Lakota Nation Invitational that wrapped up in Rapid City on Saturday provided a major financial shot in the arm — to the tune of an estimated $5 million — to local retailers, restaurants and hotels during a 2012 event that officials say was more populated and prosperous than in previous years.
This year, Rapid City saw larger crowds and a spike in spending at the event that draws tens of thousands of Native American students, parents and sports fans to the city for an annual event that is part basketball tournament, part academic challenge and part family reunion for many tribal members.
Brian Maliske, general manager of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center that hosts the event, said he expects final figures to show that about 2,000 more tickets were sold to the basketball games this year compared to last.
He also said about 41,000 people came through the Civic Center doors, and that spending on concessions internally at the Civic Center was up 11 percent over last year.
Maliske said every year the LNI tournament is a big boon to the local economy. "The LNI is one of those times when people come to see family and friends, so when they come to town it's truly special," he said.
He said that at an estimated $49 spent per person per day, the LNI generates $5 million for the community. "And that is a very conservative estimate," Maliske said.
Frieda Brewer of Porcupine said she expected to spend $3,000 or more while in town for the LNI. "Shopping, eating out, motel room, the works," Brewer said. Brewer was at the tournament Friday to watch her grandson play basketball.
Vendor Derald Rowland, owner of Native Pride Clothing Company, said sales at the event were up this year. "We're doing pretty good. Everybody just got paid so they have some extra cash in their pockets," he said, referring to the issuance of federal Cobell settlement checks earlier in the week.
A manager at The Sioux Trading Post in downtown Rapid City said the store was busy this year, but no more so than during past LNI events. "It's nicely busy with people we don't see a lot and friends coming back to visit," manager Michael Lekberg said.
Parking was hard to come by at the Civic Center where the buzz of hundreds of people talking, laughing and cheering filled every corner of the Civic Center. The LNI is known mostly for basketball, but it has evolved into much more with a knowledge bowl, a language bowl, hand games, and a business plan competition among other things.
One room at the Civic Center was filled with displays by science fair winners from various high schools. One popular station was a macroinvertebrate display where creatures gathered from Rapid Creek could be examined under a microscope.
Student researcher Delaine Peterson, a senior at Oglala Lakota College, is studying the organisms and their relationship to polluted water. "When they look at them under the microscope, most of the kids say they look like aliens," Peterson said.
The room was a feature of the Oglala Lakota College Little Shop of Physics program that works to promote science and math to Native American youth.
Even with such a variety of events, the basketball tournament was still the main draw. Fred Davis of Parker, Ariz., flew to Rapid City to support his little brother who coached a team at LNI. "I just came to support him, be with family, and watch some basketball," said Davis.
Maliske compared coming to Rapid City like going to the big city. "It's fun because some of the people from small communities for them it really is special. It's similar to when we from Rapid go to Denver or Minneapolis," he said.