Competition, Community & Culture: Why LNI Matters

January 28, 2020


In early December, Red Cloud students from kindergarten to high school were buzzing with energy and anticipation. But it wasn’t excitement about the impending holiday break from school. It was preparing to gather, compete, and celebrate at the 43rd annual Lakota Nation Invitational, known affectionately as LNI.

Red Cloud Girls Basketball and Cheer Team

This year, nearly 50 percent of Red Cloud’s student body―228 students in all―participated at LNI, competing in everything from basketball, wrestling and cheerleading, to the Lakȟóta Language Bowl, Knowledge Bowl, Art Show, Archery, Poetry Slam, Handgame Tournament, and Business Competition. 

Why does LNI hold such significance for Red Cloud students and staff, and for students and families across the reservation? In part it’s the excitement that comes with a massive competition: thousands come to Rapid City to cheer on their loved ones or their favorite team. But it’s more than just the competition. It’s the way LNI brings the community together to honor the accomplishments of Native youth―in athletics, in the arts, in knowledge of culture and language, and so much more. 

Red Cloud Boys Basketball

“It’s just a wonderful experience, because you get to see people you haven’t seen for long periods of time,” said Matt Rama, coach of Red Cloud’s girls varsity basketball team. “All of my kids, from first grade to senior, they’re all taking part. Everybody gets to be a part of LNI. It’s not just about the basketball tournament. It’s a coming together, when you get to see your friends from across the state, you get to see your relatives. It’s always special, whether you win or lose.”

LNI was founded in the late 1970s, at a time when many non-reservation high schools would not host or play Native teams. That year, Brian Brewer―then basketball coach at Pine Ridge High School―organized the first LNI, which was called the All-Indian Tournament, to allow Native teams across the region to compete together and showcase their talent.

Red Cloud Archery

In just a few years, the event became a tremendous source of pride for Native youth and communities across the region, and it moved to Rapid City in 1979 to accommodate rising numbers of participants, families and fans. It was renamed the Lakȟóta Nation Invitational in 1987, and today 16 high schools from across the region participate in the basketball tournament alone. Many other schools take part in other LNI competitions: this year there were close to 50 teams playing at the traditional handgame tournament. From its small beginnings, LNI has grown into a four-day event that brings together more than 2,500 students from on and off the reservation to compete in sports from wrestling to archery.

And LNI is about much more than athletics. LNI also includes contests in art, Lakȟóta language, and knowledge, as well as educational conferences and a business plan competition for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Red Cloud Chess Team

LNI’s annual poetry slam, which inspires Native youth to create original narratives about life on and off the reservation, has grown exponentially since it began. Red Cloud graduate and published poet Autumn White Eyes, who served as this year’s Poetry Slam Coordinator, was thrilled to be supporting young writers at LNI. 

“I feel great to be back at home and to be supporting the young people with their poetry and their writing. I think the great thing about this event is that storytelling has always been a part of our oral tradition, and as Lakȟóta people telling stories, I think we’re honoring our ancestors,” said Autumn. “Their work evokes a lot of emotions. Each poet is incredible and amazing at writing. I’m really proud of all of them.”


Red Cloud Sophomore Gus Gray


Gus Gray, a Red Cloud sophomore who participated in the poetry slam, said the experience was intimidating at first, but ultimately helped him to spark his own creative thinking. 


“[Being in the poetry slam] nurtured a sense of creativity, a sense of belonging with those who are feeling outcast and can only express themselves through writing,” he shared. “Poetry means to me an expression of one’s soul, heart, mind, and passion. And I feel honored to express my soul, heart, and passion today.”


Red Cloud Knowledge Bowl Team


Philomine Lakȟóta, Red Cloud’s advanced Lakȟóta language teacher, has coordinated LNI’s Language Bowl competition for over a decade. By creating more opportunities to speak Lakȟóta outside the classroom, she says LNI is helping to get more young people to become a part of the language revitalization movement. 


“Our people had our sacred winter gatherings―waníyetu―and LNI is a winter gathering. In the winter is when we do a lot of teaching, so this is our way of teaching, through the Language Bowl. I’m glad that Lakȟóta language and a lot of culture has come back to LNI. It identifies us...it’s the root of our people,” Philomine shared. 


Red Cloud Middle School Language Team


“I’m really proud of [my students] because they are the ones who want to do this. Way back in October they’ll say ‘I want to sign up for LNI,’ before I’m even ready, before we even know if we’re going to be coming… [During the competition] they’re remembering how to construct sentences, to negate statements, they’ve asked questions...they’re so advanced. And young people are so good in the media world―they can spread this language really fast.”


Even Red Cloud’s youngest students―who are part of its first-ever immersion kindergarten class―participated in the language competition. Immersion Kindergarten Teacher Sierra Concha was thrilled to have her students interact with other children, from schools near and far, who are also learning Lakȟóta. That sense of community, she says, is truly important. 


LNI Grand Entry


“This is a great place for kids who are learning the language to see that other kids, other Lakȟóta kids, are also learning the language and speaking it,” she shared. “In addition to being a fun event, it’s a celebration of revitalizing our language and our culture.”


Philomine’s hope is that the presence of culture and language at LNI will only continue to grow. 


Red Cloud Cheer Team


“Language is very crucial in a Lakȟóta gathering. LNI is a very well known gathering and it could all be in Lakȟóta, because it is who we are. One day it will be―that’s my hope. It’s the only way that we as a nation can secure ourselves for the future generations.”


Red Cloud’s Lakȟóta Nation Invitational Results


  • Boy's Basketball: 4th Place
  • Girl's Basketball: 2nd Place
  • Cheerleading: Dance Competition Winners
  • Hand Games: 3rd Place
  • Archery: 3rd Place Boys HS; 1st Plast Girls HS (both Freshman students)
  • Language Bowl: 3rd Place High School Team; 1st Place Middle School Team; 3rd Place for Kindergarten Team
  • Knowledge Bowl: 1st Place
  • Chess: 6 Students Participated
  • Art Show: 3rd Place
  • Business Plan: No Placement
  • Poetry Slam: No Placement
  • Wrestling: 4 students made it to the championship round and all 4 won their match. (This is the most students qualifying for championship round EVER!) 5th place overall.







Photos © Red Cloud Indian School 


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