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Lakota Nation Invitational returns from pandemic hiatus


After missing a year because of COVID-19, the annual Lakota Nation Invitational basketball tournament is back in Rapid City and bigger than ever.

This year, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will attend to meet with tribal leadership, the LNI Board of Directors and a special student delegation.

The tournament was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, prompting organizers to worry about the future of LNI. They ultimately used the downtime to plan, focus and expand this year's tournament.

LNI founder and tournament director Bryan Brewer said they worked with the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board to ensure the tournament has proper COVID-19 protocols.

“They're going to be there,” said Brewer. “They came up with a COVID plan also, but they will also be at the arena if anyone wants to be tested or if they want to get a vaccine or anything like that. So, they are cooperating with us and we're working together, and we're really hoping that it will be as safe as possible.”

For those who are hesitant about attending LNI this year, the entire tournament can be live-streamed for a $45 fee or $15 for a day pass. That includes 48 teams in the basketball tournament, plus a poetry slam, hand-game tournament and knowledge bowl.

Also new this year is the addition of a girls wrestling tournament, and Esports featuring individual and team tournaments in five different video game categories.

“We'll have all the schools coming in and participating in the E-games," Brewer said. "You know how our kids like to play games. That might be the biggest event, just like basketball used to be the biggest event.”

In years past, LNI organizers had to find overflow arenas and locations to accommodate the size of the tournament. Now with the new Summit Arena, Brewer looks forward to keeping the tournament in one place.

“When the Civic Center was brand new, we were the first basketball team to play in the Civic Center and in the arena there,” said Brewer, “and that was, what, 41 years ago. So, we have a new Monument and we get to be the first basketball games to be in there. So, that is very exciting."

Brewer said the basketball games will all be within The Monument, in the Barnett Fieldhouse, the ice arena and the new Summit Arena.

"So if you get there, you don't have to drive anywhere else to see any other games," Brewer said. "You can go right there and watch all the basketball games.”

LNI organizers say the event has a $6 million annual economic impact. They also boast the biggest high school art show in the state. Brewer reflected on how LNI started and why it’s such an important event.

“We started out as a small basketball tournament, and it's more than just basketball right now,” said Brewer. “It's the only event, I believe, that brings all of the tribes. All nine tribes will be there represented, and it's good just to be there because it's like a big family reunion of the Lakota, Dakotas and Nakotas. It's a time for us all to see each other. It's really a great event just to see people, but the best thing is being able to go and see all of our students participate in all of our different activities.”

Participating schools will meet Tuesday at Black Hills Harley-Davidson to be escorted by a variety of law enforcement agencies to The Monument for a red-carpet welcome. The event continues through Saturday.