Based in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors (MOA) project grew from desire to see our community come together through building trusting relationships. It began with one person and a simple invitation to another, and another and another, a movement quietly yet quickly gaining momentum and changing our community for the good.
With support from the Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant, MOA director Karen Mortimer invited a group of Native and non-Native community leaders and stakeholders to journey together on the “Lakota Lands and Identities” Classroom on Wheels. The five day experience built relationships and initiated convenings.
We developed a plan to address the issues our community faces in the Black Hills region. On equal footing, we stood together and found understanding amid a complex and storied history. It’s provided opportunities to discover commonalities and set a positive, productive tone for hard conversations, and to celebrate who we are as a culturally rich community.
Change happens at the speed of trust, and we are willing to take the time to build trusting relationships. Together we are working toward systemic change through engaged leaders.
Our original group from the Bush Foundation grant evolved into the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors, led by Karen Mortimer and more than 40 Ambassadors from the region. We are community members and leaders who care deeply about this place we call home, and want to work passionately to ensure it’s a place where all people are respected, valued, and cared for. We’ve grown to become the “Rapid City Circle of Friends.”
We recognize that history and place matter. Relationships matter. With this in mind, our group of Native and non-Native stakeholders and community leaders work together to BEAM:
We address the community problems of broken or lack of relationships, and lack of respect between Natives and non-Natives through initiatives developed by our Ambassadors. We’ve seen improved relations with law enforcement, health care, youth, businesses, and greater participation in activities around Native culture. We are weaving our community together.
From an eagle’s point of view, the Black Hills resembles a heart. The hills’ coloration changes with the seasons to give the appearance of a beating heart. The heart of all that is.
There are Seven Sacred Sites around the Black Hills. These sites are integral to the Lakota people and hold significant spiritual and historical meaning. Wind Cave (Wasun Wicniya Wakan) is the sacred site in the Lakota oral Creation story, the place where the Pte Oyate—Buffalo Nation/People—emerged.
Travesties happened in this place more than a century ago. It’s happened in recent years. Understanding this place is essential to healing the land and our people—Native and non-Native.
The history of the Black Hills region is a complex one not known to all who live here. From the beginning of our work, Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors have formed relationships based on common experiences. This included the “Lakota Lands and Identities” Classroom on Wheels for community leaders. With respectful curiosity, a tone of peace, and an authentic desire for truth, this group evolved into the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors.
For non-Native tourists visiting the sacred sites, it’s important to understand what the sites are to Native people. When we learn the history and the cultural significance of a place, we can appreciate its deep meaning and the ceremony surrounding it.
We believe the Black Hills are special. Unique. It’s our home. The place we love.
Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors (MOA) set a tone in our community by exemplifying how to establish and strengthen relationships in the Black Hills region. This tone celebrates what makes us different and unlike any place in the nation.
These beliefs are at the core of MOA where we maintain a tone of peace and understanding. When we are respectful, curious, and thoughtful, we build real relationships so that at the end of the day we understand our commonalities and what can bring us closer together. We are becoming better individuals and a better community.
We bring Native and non-Native people together for conversations to gain insight into issues the Rapid City area faces. The work can be done between two people over a cup of coffee, or family members around the table, or as part of larger community discussions. We nurture a forum for trust to work through conflicts and seek understanding.
We all want positive change in our community. With quality relationships, it’s easier to reach the heart of what needs to be done. When we all come as curious learners about the history and culture of our area, we find ourselves understanding the thoughts and concerns of others.
In the way we approach conversations, or how we meet a stranger eye to eye when we pass them on the street with a warm smile, we find commonalities: we all have fears and we all have prejudices to examine. But we also find we can maintain a tone of peace and celebration, bring out histories, have difficult conversations, and work through conflicts.
We all want a better community. The Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors are setting the tone to make that happen.
Karen Mortimer, Director
Karen Mortimer is the director of the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors (MOA)--currently funded by the John T. Vucurevich Foundation and with previous support from The Bush Foundation.
The Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors (MOA) project grew from Karen’s desire and passion to see our community come together through building relationships. We recognize that history and place matter. Relationships matter. We started out learning together on a bus for five days nearly three years ago! We have continued to develop relationships and learn along the way. With this in mind, our group of Native and non-Native stakeholders and community leaders focus on bridging cultures between the Native and non-Native people in the Black Hills region. We as Ambassadors (Native and non Native community leaders) share amongst one another a desire—and personal responsibility—to live by example so that systemic change through leadership can take root in our community. Read more about Karen by clicking here