TRIBE: Oglala Lakota
LOCATION: Oglala Lakota, SD
In Lakota tradition, the gift of a buffalo robe is considered a great honor, second only to receiving an eagle feather. When the government and settlers destroyed the buffalo herds, some women replaced the buffalo robe with handmade star quilts.
Taught at a young age by her mother, Norma Blacksmith has been a self-employed seamstress and quilter since 1986. In 1987, she approached the Oglala Lakota College with the idea of teaching students how to make star quilt tops as a Lakota traditional art. The board accepted the suggestion, and classes were presented to people in the community interested in learning the art form.
In 2011, with the help of Bruce BonFleur of Lakota Hope Ministry, Norma moved her business out of her home and opened Native Quilting Shop, a lifelong dream come true.
A highly respected elder in her community, Norma honors others by wrapping them in star quilts and singing songs over them. She honors people in all walks of life — men or women released from prison to Vietnam veterans.
Norma says, “I believe Wakan Tanka is a God of second chances. I believe this helps them to heal emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”
Bruce BonFleur, who helped Norma open her shop and runs Lakota Hope Ministry — an organization where Norma serves on the board — nominated her for the Community Spirit Award. “Like many women who have grown up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, she has endured struggles that have only served to strengthen her and instill fortitude,” he said. “She is in her mid-70s. Her face is lined with deep experience of all that life on the reservation means. That quality, tempered with her contagious laugh and self-deprecating humor, exudes strength, and that extends out into the community that she loves and cares for so much.”