Bryan Brewer
 Dave Archambault and his grandson George Gillette
When the 36th annual Lakota Nation Invitational tips off tomorrow at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Black Hills State University alumni Bryan Brewer and Dave Archambault will have front row seats, just as they did at the first tournament they organized in 1977.

The two helped found the LNI, at first named the All Indian Tournament, as a way to provide play time for their basketball players. Neither anticipated the legacy they were beginning.

“I don’t think anybody would have envisioned what has transpired,” Archambault said. “I just wanted to have a tournament for our school to play in.”

In 1976, both new graduates from BHSU with education degrees in hand, Brewer and Archambault  secured teaching and coaching jobs. Brewer began teaching at Pine Ridge High School and Archambault at Little Wound High School in Kyle. Both also found themselves struggling to fill their basketball schedule.

“We wanted to give our kids an opportunity to play,” said Brewer, who remains the tournament director. “Non-Indian schools were afraid to come and play because of everything that happened at Wounded Knee (in 1973).”

Archambault agreed. He wanted to offer his team a variety of opportunities to play, but more importantly he wanted a tournament for his players to compete in.

Archambault, who had started an independent tournament in Denver in the 1970s, decided to gather Brewer and other regional high school Indian coaches and discuss starting a tournament. The group met in Chamberlain and the first tournament was held in 1977 in the Pine Ridge High School gymnasium with eight teams.

The tournament spent two years in Pine Ridge before it outgrew the space. Archambault said they knew it was time to find a new location when his team, the Little Wound Mustangs, went up against the St. Francis Warriors in the championship game. Many fans couldn’t get into the game because the gym was filled to capacity and the fire marshal was not letting anyone else in.

The next day Little Wound athletic director Pat Badiuk began searching for a new venue. The recently opened Rushmore Plaza Civic Center provided an optimal place. Archambault, who was the first tournament director, said they were initially nervous about the financial obligation of renting a space at the Civic Center.

“When I think back on it, I was actually scared,”Archambault said of the expenses incurred by each school. “I remember doing an interview on TV with a local channel expressing this and encouraging Rapid City residents to come and see some really exciting basketball.”

Archambault remained the tournament director for a few years before Brewer and the late Chuck Cuny, of Red Could, took over. “They became the guiding force to one of the most spectacular events in Indian Country, as well as one of the largest events in the state of South Dakota,” said Archambault, who is now an educational consultant  specializing in non-conventional educational theory and practice for American Indian communities and schools.

Today, the LNI annually attracts several thousand visitors and is much more than a basketball tournament. It is an event celebrating the Lakota culture through art, athletics, sportsmanship, history and education.

“Last year there were 2,500 students participating in different activities,” Brewer said. Those activities include basketball,wrestling, archery, traditional Lakota handgame, Lakota language bowl, academic bowl, business competitions and a wacipi (pow wow).

It is also no longer an all-Indian tournament; instead, it is an event that promotes unity, diversity and reconciliation, according to Brewer. “Reconciliation - that has always been a theme of the LNI,” said Brewer,who was also recently elected Oglala Tribal President. “We want our students building relationships.”

Brewer and Archambault have come a long way since their days at BHSU when they first forged a friendship. Their vision, along with the vision of other high school educators throughout the years, has created an opportunity for students to unite and forge their own friendships. And that is exactly what Brewer and Archambault had hoped for.

“Anything to help our kids,” Brewer said.

The 36th annual LNI runs from Wednesday, Dec. 19 through Saturday, Dec. 22.

For a schedule of events go to http://www.gotmine.com/happening.php