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Indian memorial to add to Little Bighorn: memorial is expected to enhance education efforts at the site. (Expanding The Story).

LITTLE BIGHORN N.M., MONT. -- For years, park staff at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument have tried to tell the story of the site's namesake battle in a balanced and culturally sensitive way. Still, a glaring disparity remained: Although headstones and a granite hilltop memorial honored men from Lt. Col. George Custer's 7th Cavalry, formal recognition of the American Indian tribes who triumphed did not exist.

That is about to change. On June 25, the 127th anniversary of the battle, the park will unveil a new memorial honoring Indians as battle participants.

"The Indian people may now feel much more welcome here," said site Superintendent Darrell Cook. "Before this memorial was built, there was little recognizing the Indian participation in the battle, which took place to protect their families and way of life. In that sense, the Indian memorial will be a huge success."

The memorial will feature bronze spirit sculptures honoring three warriors of the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. A spirit gate, meant to welcome the cavalry dead, will be about 100 yards from the soldiers' monument. Inside the memorial, visitors will glean information from features such as story panels, pictograph art, and writings from Indian leaders.

"It is certainly going to expand upon the way the story of the battle is told," said Barbara Sutteer, a Northern/Ute Cherokee and the monument's Indian Memorial liaison. "First and foremost, the United States will formally recognize the Indian warriors."

Sutteer recently visited the nearly constructed memorial and liked what she saw. "The thing that pleased me is that it won't be intrusive on the landscape," she said. "It could be very conspicuous. They have preserved the landscape well."

The Battle of Little Bighorn erupted in 1876 when Custer's cavalry attacked the large Indian encampment on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. About 1,500 Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors counterattacked, killing 263 soldiers, Indian scouts, and attached personnel of the 7th cavalry, including Custer. Fewer than 100 warriors died.

Although the park offers a balanced account of the story through its lectures and education programs, many visitors to the monument do not participate, said Cook. The memorial, however, will be hard to miss.

"Until there's something actually on the ground that recognizes the Indians, you can't tell the story to as large a number of people," said Cook. "This memorial will do that, and it should generate a lot more questions from visitors.

"Once the memorial becomes more visible," he added, "I think people of all races will revisit the battlefield, or come for their first time."

The National Park Service and representatives from the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, and Arikara tribes developed the dedication ceremonies, with the theme of "Peace Through Unity." They will feature prayer, singing, storytelling, and an open microphone session during which the tribes and visitors can speak freely, followed by a formal program.

Congress authorized the Indian Memorial in 1991 but took another decade to appropriate the money, more than $2 million, for its construction. The memorial's design arose from a national design competition that generated 554 entries.

In its soon-to-be released State of the Parks assessment, NPCA describes the memorial's creation as "a beautiful example of collaboration between the tribes and National Park Service staff," adding that park staff "have come a long way in the way they manage and interpret the monument's precious resources over the past 30 years."

NPCA noted that Little Bighorn is now the only battlefield with markers for both warriors and fallen soldiers, providing for a more balanced account. The full assessment, detailing the park's needs, will be available online in July at
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Publication:National Parks
Geographic Code:1U8MT
Date:May 1, 2003
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