A majestic lady recently took her place on a bluff overlooking the mighty Missouri River in South Dakota. On September 17th, a shiny and silvery statue called “Dignity” was unveiled near Chamberlain, a small town on the riverbank, along the route followed by Lewis and Clark as they explored newly acquired territories in the early 1800s. The approximately 50-foot statue of an Indian woman was intended to honor the local cultures of the Lakotas and Dakotas, but it already has become much more.
Made of stainless steel, “Dignity” is the inspiration of Dale Lamphere, South Dakota’s Artist Laureate, who labored for two years to create a massive monument worthy of joining the two other giant sculptures for which the state is famous. A 12-ton steel statue is about as rare as the sculpted monument of Mount Rushmore, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and the unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial commemorating Indian heroism, which remains a work in progress.
“Dignity” holds aloft an open quilt with a diamond-shaped star design and stretching 32 feet across. There are 100 diamonds in the quilt, in hues of blue and gray. Each is four feet long and movable, to allow wind to pass through on blustery South Dakota days. The starry back of the geometrically-fashioned quilt can best be appreciated while driving along Interstate 90, the highway that crosses the state from Sioux Falls in the east to Rapid City in the west. At night the statue is illuminated with bright LED lights so “Dignity” is visible 24/7.
Lamphere worked with native women of various ages to capture and create a composite, representative facial expression as well as typical historical dress and symbolism. The imposing and impressive “Dignity” casts a heroic, pensive look out towards the nearby Missouri River. Her face conveys tranquility, strength, and harmony, an expression of the dignity inherent in all mankind; her demeanor embraces and transcends local Indian lore.
The symbolism of the geometric star pattern of the quilt is a very important feature. According to Lakota tribal custom, when a child is born he or she is wrapped in a quilt of a similar pattern because the Lakotas believe a child comes from the stars. Akin to a statue of the Christian Madonna, “Dignity” invites meditation on the importance of life itself.
The statue was funded by Eunabel and Norm McKie, Rapid City residents who donated it to the state of South Dakota. They too were awed by the creation they financed and, together with the sculptor, expressed the desire that “Dignity” be an inspiration and source of hope, especially to younger generations, in addition to being a tribute to the courage, perseverance, and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota cultures.
While New York City has its imposing “Lady Liberty” welcoming the stranger to a land of milk and honey, South Dakota’s “Dignity” could well rise as mid-America’s own symbolic representation of inspiration and purpose for all peoples.