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Native American sculptures get OK in Rapid City

RAPID CITY (AP) — The Rapid City Council has unanimously approved a Native American sculpture garden in the city's downtown despite safety and access concerns.

The sculpture garden in Halley Park proposed by the nonprofit First Nations Sculpture Garden Corp. will feature bronze statues of four prominent 20th century American Indians: Charles Eastman, a physician who witnessed the Wounded Knee massacre; Black Elk, an Oglala holy man who was born and raised at Pine Ridge; artist Oscar Howe; and author Vine Deloria Jr.

Construction is to begin within three years, according to the Rapid City Journal.

The garden will be flanked by two of the city's busiest roadways, raising concerns about traffic safety and available parking. The city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in July narrowly rejected the plan, urging First Nations to work with city staff to find a more suitable location. First Nations officials maintained the park likely will not draw heavy foot traffic, and the city's Public Works Committee last week narrowly recommended approval.

"This project is not meant to be obtrusive," project coordinator Elizabeth Cook-Lynn said. "It's an art-history project. It has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with religion. We don't want to dig up old animosities. Very simply, it's an educational contemplative garden. It will remind us of our indigenous past."

The leaders selected for statues represent a cross-section of influential Native American leaders, which moves away from depictions of American Indians as strictly warriors or other stereotypes, according to First Nations.

First Nations will finance the sculpture garden. The group has estimated it will cost thousands of dollars. First Nations also has agreed to donate 10 percent of whatever the cost turns out to be to the city to help offset maintenance costs, which will be the only city expenditure tied to the project.