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‘Dignity’ celebrated on South Dakota’s skyline

A crowd gathers before a ceremony in honor of the "Dignity" statue at the Chamberlain rest area on Saturday. (Evan Hendershot/Republic)

CHAMBERLAIN -- High atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, Chamberlain’s newest resident has found her new home.

After two years of planning, designing and creating the 50-foot-tall statue, called “Dignity,” the project culminated with a celebration of the time and hard work that went into the effort.

More than 200 people converged on the Chamberlain rest stop on Interstate 90 to recognize the state’s newest landmark, a stainless steel statue depicting a Native American woman draped in a star quilt.

Black Hills area artist and South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere, who designed the sculpture, and Norm and Eunabel McKie, who commissioned “Dignity,” were on hand to celebrate the completion of the project Saturday.

Two years after the McKies announced a $1 million gift to support the project, Norm McKie was impressed with the final product that now watches over the city of Chamberlain.

“And I think Dale outdid himself,” McKie joked. “I didn’t think he was going to do this this well.”

At 50 feet, “Dignity” towers over nearby trees and structures, and is easily visible for passers-by on Interstate 90. And Lamphere was happy to have played his part in adding something new to the South Dakota skyline.

“My intent for this is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that we are in a sacred place and that we are all sacred,” Lamphere said. “I’m humbled and so grateful to have this chance to contribute to the future landscape of South Dakota and the Great Plains.”

For his contribution to South Dakota, one speaker, Dr. Richard Gowan, called Lamphere and his team “geniuses of engineering.” Chaplain Herb Cleveland, of Rapid City, also offered his appreciation to the McKies and Lamphere for their work to make the dream of “Dignity” a reality.

“To you, Eunabel, and Norm McKie, we say thank you so much for this wonderful gift, for it is the epitome of what we believe in,” Cleveland said. “And Dale, my old friend, what a genius you are. You captured that idea, that became a dream, that became a plan and now is a gift and a part of reality.”

Following the list of speakers, blessings and traditional Native American songs and dance, Gov. Dennis Daugaard took the stage to recognize those who helped bring “Dignity” to Chamberlain.

After recognizing Lamphere and his team, as well as the McKies, Daugaard suggested “Dignity” may become the third well-known landmark in South Dakota.

“This is very meaningful to our state,” Daugaard said. “In addition to being the state of Mount Rushmore and the state of Crazy Horse, I believe the prominent location of ‘Dignity’ and the visibility that she offers to so many millions of travelers who will be moving up and down Interstate 90, I think we’ll soon become not just the state of those two stone monuments, but also this beautiful metal sculpture as well.”

Already the dominant feature on the Chamberlain skyline, “Dignity” is also backlit by LED lights that will glow in the night sky, making it visible to drivers passing through Chamberlain in all hours of the day. The first lighting of the statue was scheduled to be held following the initial ceremony on Saturday evening.

And while the 50-foot statue stands atop a bluff and is susceptible to South Dakota’s occasionally harsh winds, Lamphere and his crew have already accounted for any possible problems. Within the blue star of “Dignity’s” quilt are separate diamonds that shift with the wind on ceramic bearings, allowing wind to flow freely through the sculpture.

One of several speakers during the well-attended Saturday event in Chamberlain was State. Sen. Troy Heinert, of Mission.

Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said he was invited to comment on how “Dignity” could improve race relations in South Dakota. With the country more divided than ever, according to Heinert, he said “Dignity” will serve as a reminder for those who visit to return to the time when life was lived with humility, respect, compassion, and of course, dignity.

Heinert said much of the old way of life has been erased by government policies and racism, and he hoped “Dignity” would serve as a way to bring South Dakotans together in a polarizing political climate.

“Thankfully, with her help, we can make that change,” Heinert said. “I believe that she was sent here to open our hearts and our minds. Her outstretched arms are inviting us into her blanket where we can learn from each other, acknowledge our differences and celebrate our similarities.”

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