That circle-thinking model translated into a foundation for the idea behind Lakota Funds. Visionary leaders in the community realized that in order to break the cycle of poverty on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, they needed to focus on key roadblocks to economic development: access to capital, technical assistance, business networks, and infrastructure. With assistance from Oglala Lakota College and First Nations Development Institute, Lakota Funds was established in 1986 as the first-ever Native American community development financial institution (CDFI) on a reservation. They began work to break through the roadblocks.
A colorful bus roams the remote and vast landscape, a vehicle in search of ways to bring economic and social change to Native artists where they live and work on the Pine Ridge Reservation. These artists have six needs, needs that are steadily being helped by our Rolling Rez Arts Mobile Unit. Native art is key to sustaining culture at the community level, though these artists are often overlooked.
Nothing like it in the Indian art world. Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota) is establishing a style of his own, his voice that he found after leaving home. Working in Boston doing high-end framing, Wade handled modern works where he prepared gallery pieces for places like Manhattan, London, Miami, and Los Angeles. But he kept in mind how he wanted to do his own work, to someday become a full-time artist.
When the sanctity of a sacred site was threatened, Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Dine’) grabbed a camera and unwittingly found her calling in life. For years, she had longed to tell stories visually. She wasn’t a talented artist like the rest of her family. But during that time of running a camera, of editing a story about the sacred site, Razelle discovered her art.
First Peoples Fund held our 2017 Fellowship Convening earlier this month in Minneapolis. The convening is an extended professional development opportunity, balanced with time for sharing, reflecting and creating new bonds. "My biggest takeaway from the convening were the connections I made with the staff and fellow artists. I got to know my support network there and met new collaborators,” said 2017 fellow Paul Wennell (Anishinaabe/Oneida), a hip-hop artist based in Minneapolis.
A space that illuminates the human condition, celebrates cultural differences and promotes human rights is leading two groundbreaking projects with funding in part by First Peoples Fund’s Our Nations Spaces (ONS) grant program. Pangea World Theater of Minneapolis has worked with artists from many communities locally, nationally and internationally to create new aesthetic realities for an increasingly diverse audience.
Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota) is a self-taught artist gaining recognition through her digital vector work. Her art has shown at All My Relations Gallery in Minneapolis and Red Cloud Heritage Center in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, as well as a solo show at the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota. She’s currently an artist-in-residence at Nawayee Center School in Minneapolis, working with Native students for the Mde Maka Ska festival. Marlena is a 2017 First Peoples Fund Artists in Business Leadership fellow.
A heartfelt thank you to the New York Times for highlighting the importance of the National Endowment of the Arts funding for Lakota Country. If approved by Congress, the national budget proposal would mean the elimination of NEA grants to Native artists and the organizations and institutions that support them across Indian Country.
Paul Wenell, Jr. is an Anishinaabe and Oneida hip-hop artist who performs and records under the name Tall Paul. The music video for his bilingual track titled “Prayers in a Song” reached over a quarter million views on YouTube, opening several media and performance opportunities. He’s enrolled in the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, and he’s an artist with Dream Warriors Management and a 2017 First Peoples Fund Artists in Business Leadership fellow.