Adonis Saltes speaks about his mother standing in the Lakota Dream Museum & Monument, his creation, just days before its opening.
"Dawson Has No Horse, a powerful medicine man, saw my mother reading a book called "The Princess Diaries" and took it away from her. Then he put another book about the Lakota people in her hand and said, 'This will be your path now.'"
It has become the path of 23-year-old Saltes, too, who after more than a year of planning and curating artifacts of cultural importance for the Lakota people, will open his museum on Saturday in downtown Rapid City.
"I truly believe this is the only museum that is from the people," said Saltes.
On the walls hang paintings from imprisoned AIM member Leonard Peltier. Large text murals telling the story of the Treaty of Fort Laramie and Wounded Knee and resistance in the 1970s hang on the wall. A taxidermied white buffalo calf greets visitors in a glass case.
"This is practically like Jesus," said Saltes. "There are few things more sacred."
Saturday's opening represents a culmination of effort from the young man, who grew up on Pine Ridge until, in his own words, he "hopped in a car" with his mother and moved to Arizona. After attending college in Utah on a basketball scholarship, Saltes wanted to return to western South Dakota to open up his museum. The current location at 629 Main Street may just be temporary, as Saltes and his board of directors have sought funding for a more permanent location in the Black Hills themselves, but he is ready to welcome people to see his collection.
He says much of the history seen on the walls comes from his own family.
"This exhibit was easy to tell," said Saltes, "because my grandmother, 'Tiny' DeCory, she was a part of AIM (the American Indian Movement) and was very close to Russell (Means), (Clyde) Bellecourt, all those guys. Since we were young, we grew up hearing those stories."
Red-tailed hawk feathers from a revered medicine man dot one exhibit. A dark blue star blanket drapes over a wall. Saltes said he had inherited some curated items and others needed to be sent from as far away as Germany.
"To a museum professor, that might not matter much because he wants hardcore proof, but that's what's special about this museum," said Saltes. "It's no one else telling our stories. What's real to us is what we put in this museum."
Hours will run 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at first, and admission costs $14 for adults and $10 for children. At the kiosk up front, a small gift store will sell T-shirts and traditional food, such as chokecherries and cheyaka tea.
"We hope anybody who really wants the true story of the Lakota people to come in and learn from the people," said Saltes.