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We are days away from the 42nd edition of the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI), a time when some of the best athletic and cultural talents and skills of young participants are showcased.

The LNI participants represent their schools, families, communities and nations, and the Rapid City community is filled with a sense of anticipation and welcome for the thousands of tournament participants and supporters.

One of my best experiences as mayor has been joining community and business leaders, citizens and tournament officials in welcoming the teams to the LNI. It is a beautiful scene as buses of teams receive a law enforcement escort to the Civic Center. Players, coaches and cheerleaders then enter the Civic Center, where they are warmly greeted by a large greeting line and a sea of high-fives and applause — everyone wishing them all collective best wishes in the tournament.

The LNI is much more than basketball. There are numerous competitions and shows: art, archery, business plans, cheerleading, chess, knowledge bowl, language bowl, poetry, story telling and wrestling.

Tournament organizers, participants and many in the Rapid City community continue to talk about last year’s inaugural LNI Hand Games Corporate Citizen Challenge, where local teams competed against each other in the traditional Native American guessing game. The Corporate Challenge is back again with more teams (Dec. 14/11 a.m.) and the friendly competition among businesses, city and county officials and others helps build awareness, understanding and appreciation of this very popular Native American competition.

The LNI brings families and friends together in Rapid City — a great opportunity to renew friendships and foster new relationships. And Rapid City is proud to have hosted this great event since 1978. The LNI fosters a spirit of racial reconciliation, cultural appreciation, and it’s a great opportunity to promote better race relations and understanding in our local community — an opportunity for us to grow as a community.

Certainly, the LNI is one of the biggest events held in Rapid City, bringing in visitors from several states with an overall economic impact exceeding $3.5 million. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for visitors to experience our community’s hospitality and friendliness.

Our downtown is again adorned with street and light pole banners promoting the LNI and welcoming participants, families and fans to our community. These banners are printed in both English and Lakota in an effort to welcome all.

On Tuesday at 4 p.m., teams will again be escorted into Rapid City and given a red carpet welcome by the community at the Civic Center. Rapid City business and community leaders and tournament supporters will line the red carpet to offer greetings, encouragement and high-fives.

We hope you’ll consider joining us. I encourage our citizens to come down to the LNI, welcome the participants, walk around and take in the tournament experience! You won’t be disappointed. The LNI is a big deal to Rapid City, and we look forward to providing participants a community welcome they deserve and an experience they won’t soon forget.

I encourage our citizens to attend a portion of the LNI events. It’s my hope our LNI guests feel welcomed and inspired to visit again. While the economic impact is great, the impact of the cultural experiences provided by this event are long-lasting and immeasurable. Support the students who come to play, and take the time to learn about and appreciate one another.

For more information on the LNI, visit http://www.lakotanationinvitational.com/.

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Steve Allender is the mayor of Rapid City.

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