Bryan Brewer reminisces about the LNI on Oyate Today ShowBy Native Sun News Today Editorial Board
nativesunnews.today On the Oyate Today television show on KEVN guest Bryan Brewer talked about the small beginnings of the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament, known state-wide and locally by its acronym the LNI. In the beginning the LNI was known as the All Indian Tournament and it was held on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but Bryan and Chuck Cuny decided that the facilities at Pine Ridge were not big enough because as the tournament’s popularity grew so too did the size of the crowd. And before long they had to start turning basketball fans away at the door. The decided to move the LNI to Rapid City to the Civic Center and to make another major change. Gov. Mickelson and Tim Giago had just come up with the Year of Reconciliation and in the spirit of Reconciliation Bryan and Chuck thought it would be great of the tourney included White teams from the surrounding communities. Larry Luitjens, the longtime basketball Coach of the Custer Wildcats, a big-hearted and gregarious man was the first White coach to step forward. When the LNI started to play its games in Rapid City, Coach Luitjens and his Wildcats took the court and not only were the stands filled with joyous Lakota fans, but there were also a few hundred White fans of the Custer Wildcats on hand to cheer on their always competitive team. And so it began. But it wasn’t all peaches and cream at the start. There seems to have been a concerted effort by the local police and the State Highway Patrol to make the trip to and from the Reservations an obstacle course of roadblocks and open harassment of Lakota people. The Lakota Times (the original) took notice of this disparity on law enforcement and began to do editorial and news stories about it.
In so many of the cases the Native Americans coming to and from the tournament were doing nothing illegal except showing up in Rapid City as loyal fans of their favorite basketball teams. The Lakota Times asked the question, “Are the White fans coming to and from Rapid City from Custer undergoing the same traffic scrutiny?” And of course the answer was no. Even Coach Luitjens spoke up about the ill-treatment of the Indian fans. The apparent show of prejudice was so obvious that even the law enforcement officers took note of it. Gradually, as the LNI grew in popularity and as the fight for unity and reconciliation continued led by Bryan and Chuck, the open hostility by the local police and highway patrol began to diminish. The business leaders in Rapid City began to notice a marked increase in city revenues and the taxes generated in the local businesses began to show up in the City’s coffers also. Since the LNI was always held in mid-December it was the perfect time for the residents of the remote reservations to visit the local department and toy stores for their Christmas shopping. Thousands of dollars were spent annually during the LNI that gave a real boost to the local businesses at the slowest time of the year. Last year the Rapid City Visitor’s Bureau under the guidance of Julie Jensen encouraged the City to put up signs on the main highways leading into the City reading, “WELCOME TO THE LNI.” It was a first for this City and it was a longtime in coming. We know it is still a little early to talk about the LNI, a tournament that even made the pages of Sports Illustrated Magazine, but we could not help but compliment Julie Jensen and Mayor Allender for making Rapid City a place that welcomed the Lakota visitors to the LNI with open arms. We also believe all of the merchants of Rapid City deserve a pat on the back for stepping forward to offer a welcoming hand to the Lakota and visitors from other Indian Nations. As the singer and poet Bob Dylan sang so many years ago, “Times they are a-changing.”
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