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Augustana College now home to native artifacts

An artifact at the American Indian Culture Center sits on display at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin. (AP photo)

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- A treasure trove of Dakota tribal books, photographs, artwork and artifacts is coming to Sioux Falls to stay after almost a half century in a collection at Blue Cloud Abbey's American Indian Culture Research Center.

The move to the Center for Western Studies on the Augustana College campus ends concerns about the future of the collection after the abbey closed Aug. 5.

While some beadwork, quillwork and other items in the collection are being returned to members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, many of the 4,000 books and 40,000 photos were delivered in late November to the center in Sioux Falls.

The decision to move the collection established by the Rev. Stan Maudlin 45 years ago at the abbey near Marvin is "a wonderful testimony to the relationship between Father Stan, Blue Cloud Abbey and the Center for Western Studies over many, many years," said Harry Thompson, executive director of the Sioux Falls center.

"This is an enormous additional collection of material that he and others collected at the abbey," Thompson said. "This really does represent Father Stan's effort."

For decades, the abbey center provided researchers, schoolchildren, tribal members and others a window into the historical and cultural lives of the Dakota. Maudlin wanted a repository for the voices and faces of the native people. He also wanted the outside world to come and better understand the Dakota view of the planet, their philosophy on life, and their spirituality.

Among the photos are images of Sisseton-Wahpeton members who helped during the construction of the abbey. And there are numerous recordings of oral stories told by tribal members long ago.

Tamara St. John, an archivist with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, has said some tribal members with longstanding ties to the abbey asked about items their relatives had left with the monks.

Thompson said he imagined some of those items were being returned to members of the tribe.

"These are personal items," he said. "There might be some photographs, I suppose. These would be some beadwork and quillwork perhaps that some family members had put there for safe-keeping."

Some artifacts will go on display in the near future, Thompson said. The Center for Western Studies just completed a $1.5 million endowment campaign, and now, with an overall endowment of $7 million, is in a position to expand its museum space.

"In the short term, we'll work with our library to catalog the book collection, which itself is enormous," Thompson said. "We are already working on an archives initiative. We'll wrap these photographs into that archives initiative so we can place a number of them online for researchers. And what really gets people excited are the artifacts. We'll make sure they can see them immediately."

There had been concerns across eastern South Dakota that the abbey collection might be divided up and dispersed across the nation. Linda Boyd, owner of Prairie Star Gallery in downtown Sioux Falls, was happy to see it remain in the state.

"I'm happy the collection is saved. To me that is number one," Boyd said. "I hope they let the tribes know they can come and study the records. I think working with the tribes so they can come in the future, do research and use it is something Augustana will strive to do as well."