Akta Lakota Museum: An American Treasure in South Dakota

Wednesday July 16, 2014 at 12:12 PM | 0 Comments

Lakota Sioux history and culture in artifacts and signage

Each year, my family heads to Montana from Ohio. On these treks across vast expanses of the United States, we pick at least one new place to visit. This year we headed into Chamberlain, South Dakota since the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center caught my eye.

Situated on the bank of the Missouri River on the grounds of the St. Joseph School, the Akta Lakota Museum offers an expansive, detailed look at the Northern Plains Indians with the main focus on Lakota Sioux history and culture. The museum was a thumbs up and well worth the brief detour (about 15 minutes) off I-90.

The artifacts and signage of the museum’s exhibits parcel out details about Lakota beliefs and traditions, as well as, the devastation that was caused by the westward expansion of European-Americans into Native American territory. The tales told are uplifting and heartbreaking, particularly as depicted by the quotes of notable chiefs like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse whose words express both their strength and their pain.

The history and the importance of the horse are a feature.

The history and the importance of the horse are a feature.

While Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the west is worth admiration, the Akta Lakota Museum does point out that their arrival in South Dakota had dire consequences later. Diseases like small pox and the almost extinction of the buffalo are part of the story of this time in American history.

Still, the over-arching message is that the Lakota Sioux culture continues to thrive as an important part of U.S. heritage and has something to teach everyone. Honoring elders and the earth, and the connection between humans and the natural world are prominent beliefs that are part of the lessons taught throughout. Spend time at the interactive display that shows which animals represent certain personality traits and you might find out the animal that most represents you.

An interactive display about the buffalo

An interactive display about the buffalo

Another interactive display features Lakota Sioux children. Child rearing practices and the differences between how girls and boys were raised in the traditional way are included. Visitors can play games common to boys and girls at each section. Other exhibits are about specific cultural traditions like the use of tobacco and pipes in ceremonies and the sacredness of the buffalo, particularly as connected to the uses of the various parts of this majestic animal. The intricacies of the bead work incorporated into clothing and footwear are also prominent features in several displays.

Videos scattered throughout give detailed explanations as well. Along with the displays about the Lakota past are ones about the present. Current Sioux artists’ work are also on display.

The Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing

The Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing

Another part of the museum covers the past and present of the St. Joseph’s Indian School. Started as a boarding school to educate Lakota Sioux children, the school is still operating and unlike the boarding schools of the past, strives to help Native American children connect to their traditional culture and heritage. Don’t miss the Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing. Located outside the building with the Missouri River as a backdrop, the garden was created as a place of healing. A quote on the wall alludes to the pain caused by early education practices when Native American children were taken from their families in order to be assimilated into European-American ways.

As a person who loves a terrific gift shop, the one at the Akta Lakota Museum is perfect. Items range from sage to dream catchers to gorgeous jewelry and handmade Lakota star quilts. There’s something in every price range. The Collector’s Gallery features local artists’ sculptures and paintings that are for sale.

Intricate Native American bead work

If You Go:
Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center
1301 N Main St, Chamberlain, South Dakota 57325
(800) 798-3452

Post and photographs courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association

Book Review: Victura: The Kennedys, A Sailboat, and the Sea

Friday July 11, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 3 Comments

"Victura" book

Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea

The lives of President John F. Kennedy and his storied family have been dissected, one would have thought, from every angle possible. But now comes the story of their enchantment with sailboats. As an avid sailor, this approach piqued my interest as none of the other myriad of tell-all stories of American’s “Camelot” had ever done. Author and Kennedy family friend James W. Graham focuses his tale on the Wianno Senior a 25-foot (7.6 m) gaff-rigged sloop that seems to be raced only on Nantucket Sound by four Cape Cod yacht clubs. JFK was, according to the tale, given a Senior at age 15 and it was named Victura, which means “about to live” or “about to conquer.”

The book starts out, as many Kennedy biographies do, with the last days of the doomed president. But it focuses on a doodle the president made on the stationary of the Rice Hotel in Houston, where he and his wife Jacqueline stayed the night before his assassination in Dallas. On a piece of paper found later by the cleaning staff was a little sketch of a sailboat.

"Kennedy" sailing

Kennedy sailing Victura with kids

The Kennedys love of sailing

It’s a novel way to approach the story of the Kennedy family, and I was anxious to see how the story of their love for the sea wound through the historic highs and lows of the Kennedy epic. We learn a number of things about the family and their relationship to the sea, mostly about their family compound at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. We’re reminded the Kennedys were ambitious, competitive and hated to lose at anything, especially sailing. This was something they learned from the patriarch of the family, Joseph P. Kennedy, who would chide his children, or just plain not talk to them, after a loss in a sailing race. We learned that, to the Kennedys, sailing was a ritual to prove their place in the family, and fight for a place in the pecking order. Sailboats were a place for courting and building an image as America’s first family of a new generation of politicians in the tumultuous middle of the last century.

Many of the iconic stories and images of the Kennedys concern boats and water. The most powerful, of course, is the story of JFK surviving the sinking of the PT109 in the South Pacific during World War II; another is the picture of JFK and Jacqueline on Victura during their courtship (pictured above, on the cover of the book). This tale is at its best when it sticks to the boats and the lives of the Kennedys when they return to Hyannis Port to sail together as a way to celebrate or mourn, which they did in spades.


"Victura" sailboat

Victura sailboat at JFK Library & Museum, Boston.

The book drags a bit when it wanders too far from the sea, trying to weave in the major issues and crises of JFK’s presidency, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, and other historical and political challenges faced by JFK and his brothers. It’s clear that returning to Hyannis Port to sail was one way the Kennedys decompressed from their extraordinary public lives. The sections on the presidency don’t add to what is already known, and make the real core of the story — a family’s love for the sea — seem small and, except to a sailor, slightly inconsequential in perspective.

This book confirms much of what we have come to know about the Kennedy family: they live lives not like the rest of us. But it also showed that they shared something core to most sailors: the knowledge that roiling tides, battering winds and the challenges of flapping sails and flying sheets are both a salve for despair and a powerful way to feel the joys of victory. Whether you are a sailor or fan of John F. Kennedy, you might enjoy the book Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat and the Sea by author James W. Graham.

Where to Buy

Victura: The Kennedys, A Sailboat, and the Sea

This is a guest post written by Spencer A. Sherman. Spencer last wrote about Houseboating on Lake Oroville.

Celebrating Independence Day in USA

Friday July 4, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 5 Comments

"Fourth of July" parade

Celebrating Independence Day in USA

To some people the Fourth of July means barbecues and fireworks displays. To others, July Fourth means street parades, military celebrations and commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, celebrating independence day in the USA. Our neighborhood brings out the barbecues and picnic tables after our two minute bike parade. However you celebrate independence day, give thanks for living in the USA.

kids, bikes "July Fourth"

Kids on bikes, July Fourth

Getting ready to celebrate Independence Day in Northern California

"Fourth of July" parade

Families celebrate Fourth of July

Fourth of July celebrations include American flags and parades

kids on bikes

Kids on bikes celebrate July Fourth in Northern California

Celebrating Independence Day in Half Moon Bay, California


Celebrating Independence Day in Half Moon Bay, California

How do you celebrate independence day in the USA?