Art For Indigenous Survival

LAKOTA of Kyle (Pine Ridge Reservation), South Dakota 1992

Pine Ridge is located in the southwest corner of South Dakota - 5,000 square miles - 16,000 people - and according to the New York Times, the poorest county in the United States. Much of the land is known as The Badlands. There are several towns - Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Porcupine, Kyle, Denby, Manderson, Oglala and Wanblee. The people have been called Oglala Sioux by the Europeans. They have had many famous chiefs - Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, American Horse - and several famous medicine men - Black Elk, Frank Fools Crow. The people have held on to their traditions and there are few signs of commercialism on the land. The following are excerpts from the journal I kept while living with Lily Mae Red Eagle and teaching Soft Sculpture for the month of September.

August 31: Left Corsica, South Dakota on US 44 heading west - two pheasants crossed the road in front of me near Winner. Saw two White Pelicans near Cedar Butte, a Red Tailed Hawk at Wanblee and a Golden Eagle coming into Kyle, a small town of about 1000 people. Paved roads turned to dirt roads winding through rolling grasslands, full of people walking , riding bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks, all ages. Little Wound School , Oglala Lakota College, the Indian Health Service, the Post Office, the Senior Center, the Tribal Police, a grocery store, a convenience store, a Catholic Church make up the downtown area.

September 1: Went to the Senior Center and started to work. The Center is the other half of the Post Office building. There is no rural delivery on the Reservation so everyone comes in to get their mail. About five ladies showed up to work and we started cutting out patterns and pieces. Finished one sunflower and hung it up - got two more ready to put together, many parts assembled. They speak Lakota 3/4 of the time and listen to KILI Radio with Sioux music, country music, rock and roll, ads for alcohol rehab, music requests for birthdays, and no commercials. The TV also runs with Donahue, Oprah and the soaps.

September 5: Went to a Powwow in Porcupine. The Iron Cloud family was celebrating George Iron Cloud's 92nd Birthday with an Honoring Ceremony and a Give Away. They fed over 400 people with huge vats of soup, chunks of beef, potatoes, corn, cabbage, fried bread, fried chicken, beans, potato salad, chocolate cake, apples raisin pie and Wasuki (plum pudding - September is the month of the ripe plums). After a series of speeches and dances, they gave away trunks, baskets, boxes, Star Quilts, afghans, quilt tops, pillows, towels and a box of oranges for the children. Then the dancing began.

September 23: finished everything - 24 sunflowers and two golden eagles for the center, 12 sunflowers to take home for everyone who worked on the project, and a Golden Eagle for Lily Mae. Divided up all of the left over fabrics, stuffing and sewing supplies. Made some special friends - Lily Mae Red Eagle, Mary Strikes Plenty, Nancy Yellow Thunder, Vienna Good Voice Elk, and Bill Swimmer who came up to me on the last day and "I promise you, you come back I will help you - all the time." I wanted to stay just to see the faces, hear the language, watch the children, the cry of the coyotes. They are a brave people on a hard land.

by Shirley Frey McConahay
Chairman of the Board
Art for Indigenous Survival

Postscript: Anyone wishing to send gifts to Pine Ridge (whether pens, pencils, paper, paints, paintbrushes, needles, thread, hammers, nails, tape measures, handsaws - anything can be used and the seniors are good at distributing throughout the community), might simply send to:

Kyle Senior Citizen Center
P.O. Box 605
Kyle, South Dakota 57752