Art For Indigenous Survival

Back to Pine Ridge
October 1999

Irma and I loaded the car and headed west back to South Dakota, the Lakota people and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Settling in Kyle with Lily Mae Red Eagle, we started working at the Senior Center. There we found some old friends from 1992 - Lily Mae, Elsie, Edna, Nancy and Mary. Several new friends joined us also - Connie, Sarah, Lois, Ora and Rachel. We started out making Yellow Headed Blackbirds and Meadowlarks and then moved on to Golden Eagles. The Eagles I had made in 1992 for the Center had been lovingly cared for by Phyllis Clifford, the manager

There had been several changes in Kyle, the Lakota Fund has a new building with an impressive art gallery and Hospice offices. The Fund has made many small business loans for Bed and Breakfasts, Tour Guides and the Wild Horse Deli where we stopped often for coffees. Little Wound School had a refurbished front and had started a historical park complete with Tipis. Kyle now has regular banking services every Thursday when the Bank Van arrives for the day.

Over the first weekend, Lily Mae, Irma and I headed for Rapid City and the Black Hills. On Saturday we attended the big Intertribal Pow Wow at the Convention Center. We watched and listened, overwhelmed by the sheer number of participants and the beat of the drums. The colors and complexities of the Regalas were amazing. On Sunday, we drove through the hills videoing the wildlife.

During our second week we taught until 2:00 every day at the Senior Center in Kyle, and then packing up the car, we drove 30 miles to Wanblee to teach from 3:00 to 5:00 at Oglala Lakota College. The director, Georgia, introduced us around and we began with Yellow Warblers, moving on to Golden Eagles. The rides back and forth between Kyle and Wanblee gave us a chance to see Wild Turkeys, Pheasants, and cattle round-ups.

In the third week, eagles were being completed regularly - Connie finished first, Elsie second. Elizabeth showed us how to make frybread and we ate with the 40+ seniors who were fed five days a week at the Center. In Wanblee, Bernadette and Darlene talked about being in the moview - DANCES WITH WOLVES, THUNDERHEART. Many Indians have been in the movies because of the desire for authenticity in the westerns.

The last week of October arrived with everyone finishing up their Eagles. I finished a Buffalo Head to add to the Center's growing collection of Soft Sculpture. According to the survey we ran at the beginning and end of the project, we had reduced the level of depression among our participants, increased their excitement over new tasks, and built up their confidence about what they could achieve. It was a rewarding month well spent on the Rez in South Dakota.


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