Big plans could be in the offing for a famous piece of local real estate.
A total of 731 acres that includes Sitting Bull Caverns just south of U.S. Highway 16 are currently for sale. The founder and CEO of The Lakota Dream and Monument Project, Adonis Saltes, an Oglala Lakota tribal member, seeks to build the area's first Native-owned and -operated museum on the land’s picturesque plateau.
“The Sitting Bull Caverns land would be perfect,” said Saltes, 22. “It’s in our Sacred Black Hills and you can see Black Elk Peak rising behind it.”
The land is currently owned by 18 members of the locally prominent Duhamel family. An earlier offer by museum representatives to buy 25 acres of the parcel was rejected in favor of a single, undivided sale of the acreage. Duhamel family representative Peter Heffron declined to comment on the negotiations.
Leroy Breinholt, an early member of the Lakota Dream Board, serves as Family Offices administrator for Enactus, a college entrepreneurial education program he says is in 60 countries and serves 70,000 students. Breinholt met Saltes on a trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“People ask me: What am I doing working on a Native American Museum project?" Breinholt said. "The answer: I couldn’t say no to Adonis. The young man’s an anomaly; with him, your expectations are phenomenal. There’s a difference between talk and walk. Adonis is a doer.”
Breinholt said the purchase of the 731 acres is just one of the options being considered. “I see a couple of different directions. Another option would be to rent a building, get artifacts, and see how it goes from there. We have had promising talks with the Smithsonian."
Two weeks ago, The Lakota Dream and Monument project launched a fundraising effort on multiple platforms, to include an Indiegogo crowdfunding initiative along with social media campaigns. Prior to this campaign, the project had already generated considerable financial backing.
“We have enough investment to proceed in either direction,” Saltes said. “Enough to leverage full funding from the banks, enough to begin preliminary work such as landscape, building architecture, and site engineering planning.
He also said the original bid for 25 acres, if accepted, would have meant Lakota Dream had more than adequate funds and space to complete the museum, with parking and a spacious campus.
'Just the right people'
Cody Toppert, Lakota Dream board member and a coach in the NBA’s Phoenix Suns organization, has known Adonis Saltes since he coached him at an Albuquerque, N.M., prep school. “The museum is this young man’s dream; he’s trying to make it real," Toppert said. "It’s unbelievable the way he’s rallied people to this cause.
“Until I met Adonis, my life had little or nothing to do with anything like this — now I’m heavily invested. That’s inspiring, and it means the project is already a success. As we work to make this a tangible reality for people in Rapid City, they need to know we’ve got just the right people working on it."
While Toppert agrees with Breinholt that the Lakota Dream Board for the project has different options, he thinks the pros for ownership of the 731 acres would be that the land would immediately become an asset for diversified uses such as parceling, rental and revenue generation in other venues for the Black Hills tourist industry.
Toppert says whichever way they go will depend on the organization’s liquidity and fundraising results. “The question will be: How viable are our plans for revenue generation?" he said. "When we get a clearer picture of that the correct answer will present itself.”
Toppert remains optimistic: “To see the progress that’s been made month over month has been really impressive," he said. "It leads me to believe this is a realistic project."
He points to several accomplished young Native Americans whom Saltes has united. There’s Jude Schimmel, Lakota Dream board member and Umatilla tribal member. As a point guard, Schimmel helped take her University of Louisville basketball team to the Sweet 16 in 2015. Then there’s Ilima Lei Macfarlane, a Native Hawaiian Islander of Hupa/Puma and Polynesian descent. Macfarlane is MMA Bellator Featherweight Champion with an undefeated record of 7-0.
Canadian Indigenous Rights activist Ashley Callingbull is also passionate about the project. A Cree Native, model and actor, Callingbull is a former Mrs. Universe.
“Adonis is a family friend I met a few years ago when my family and I were in South Dakota doing a speaking event,” Schimmel said. “I believe in trusting your intuition, so when he introduced the (museum) idea to me, and asked me to serve on the board, I was excited and inspired ... Of course, I said yes. The history of our ancestors deserves to be told truthfully … We want our narrative told from a perspective that’s never been fully acknowledged.”
Starting a conversation with stories
Schimmel said the Lakota Dream Museum and Monument will “inspire and educate people from all walks of life, and will create change that will help get Native people what they have needed and deserved for years."
Callingbull says the museum is one of the most powerful things she supports. “Our people are storytellers, and the full and true story of indigenous peoples hasn’t been told,” Callingbull said. “This museum will help us to have that power to share things truthfully."
Ilima Lei Macfarlane heard about the project from Sunny Red Bear, Lakota Dreams director of communications. Besides being a mixed martial arts champion, Macfarlane mentors Native youth in the San Diego area where she now lives and trains. “The museum is very important to learn the real history, not just the western version of it,” Macfarlane said.
As Lakota Dream’s communications director, Red Bear sees her role as building long-term relationships with people. “We’re looking for partners, not just donors," she said. "The South Dakota School of Mines has expressed an interest in becoming a partner. Others will follow. These people — allies, I call them — have a heart for our people.
“With this museum, we will use our voice the way our ancestors would, we will come to people in a good way, we will help to start a conversation that isn’t just one-sided, and we will share our stories. Until now, they’ve mostly been filtered. People either say 'those Indians are alcoholics and struggling,' or they romanticize us. Both are dehumanizing. We have a voice, we have an identity. People empathize with the Jewish people from learning about their history; this museum will allow people to learn our true history.”
From equity to equality
Ruben Cantu’s primary focus is on social impact philanthropy. As a Lakota Dream Board member from Austin, Texas, he met Adonis on a trip to Pine Ridge last July. Cantu asked Saltes about local conditions.
“Adonis told me: ‘This is the way things are, but it’s not who we are.’ I decided to help," Cantu said. “We try to fight for equality, but we cannot have equality until we first have equity."
Saltes said the project will create jobs, scholarships, loans and other educational opportunities. Saltes said he doesn't have a timeline for the project, because so many details are yet to be worked out. “In 2019, we’ll be coming out with a more specific rollout plan," he said. "The crowdfunding will continue for at least the next couple of months.
"When I see the Lakota people, I see my grandmother and my ancestors, and I can’t say no to my community.”