December 9, 2018
The Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) will once again host large groups of student athletes and scholars as they compete in a full program of high school activities. The forty second annual Lakota Nation Invitational will celebrate the athletic talents, academic skills and cultural knowledge of our Indigenous youth.
What began as a small All-Indian Boys Basketball Tourney on the Pine Ridge Reservation has evolved into an action-packed program of athletic events which include the showcasing of talent in in basketball, cheerleading, cross-country, golf, volleyball, wrestling and archery. LNI also has academic competitions and cultural activities for students. These include the Art Show, Lakota Language Bowl, Business Plan Writing, Poetry Slam, Hand Game Tournament and the Knowledge/Quiz Bowl. Friday’s Grand Entry of Lakota veterans, wacipi dancers, athletes, officials and participants of all LNI activities is always a high-energy event to attend.
Lakota children are the crown jewel of our Oyate. It’s an awesome way to end the year by supporting the talent of our young people as they participate in sports, cultural and academic events. The youth whom participate are often the current role models for countless grade school students who are now dreaming of showcasing their sport, academic and cultural skills at a future LNI event.
Many of our families travel to watch the fast-paced basketball action played on several courts throughout the four-day tourney. Some of the best high school basketball games in the region are played during the LNI Tourney. The basketball tourney is certainly on par with any state basketball championship tourney and often attracts national attention.
It takes a lot of hard work and requires year-round planning by the Board of Directors to organize a successful LNI. Participating schools send staff members as volunteers to work at the events throughout the weekend. These school employees devote their free time by working long hours to help the event run smoothly. We appreciate their sacrifice as unofficial ambassadors of this winter holiday classic.
Sadly, most of our people and students attending the 2018 Lakota Nation Invitational are in mourning. In fact, this year’s LNI excitement is dampened by the untimely death of Tonya Whirlwind Soldier, a Sicangu Lakota woman who lost her battle with cancer yesterday.
Tonya was a long-time cross-country coach from Todd County High School. She was one of the organizers of LNI and worked tirelessly every year to help host a memorable event for student participants. Her death on December 8 left a great void in the lives of her children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, extended family, friends, co-workers and the students whose lives she touched.
Tonya was loved by everyone she encountered. It didn’t matter what was happening in her life, she always had a smile, a happy-to-see-you greeting, along with a bear hug for her cherished family and friends. Even after she became seriously ill, it didn’t stop her from treating everyone she knew with kindness and love.
Tonya was a lifetime athlete. Many of us will remember her as she ran her daily miles on local reservation roadways, waving at us when we honked our car horn at her as we passed. As sick as she was, Tonya didn’t let her illness overcome her as she remained as active as her ailing body would allow.
Tonya’s sons and grandchildren were the joy of her life. She cherished them and was proud of their accomplishments. She held her parents, Homer and Rosalie Whirlwind Soldier, in high regard. She set an example for all of us in the way she treated her Tiwahe. We offer our prayers for Tonya’s Tiospaye.
Lakota Country Times and the LNI Board of Directors offers our condolences to all who loved Tonya Whirlwind Soldier.
Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and has been a journalist since 2001. She can be reached through email firstname.lastname@example.org.