Image of Marlena Myles by Mary Richardson. Artwork images courtesy of artist.

Image of Marlena Myles by Mary Richardson. Artwork images courtesy of artist.

debbie rattling leaf


TRIBE: Northern Arapaho

MEDIUM: Jewelry

LOCATION: Black Hawk, SD





Debbie has a hard time calling herself an artist. While she has been creating art for more than two decades, she never seriously considered marrying her love of traditional jewelry-making with a business plan until recently. Part of her efforts to grow a business has included gaining more business training with the Artist in Business Leadership grant.

Like many artists, her penchant for creating came naturally. Once she had children, she started sewing their outfits for pow wows and eventually taught regalia-making classes. “I kept going, and new ideas came to me,” she said.

Putting those ideas on paper was the next step to turning this work into a career. Debbie used the fellowship, and the professional development support it provided, to develop an art booth, and design marketing material.

She traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a First Peoples Fund training and was encouraged and challenged by the artists she met there. “It was eye-opening,” she recalled. “You have to think about how to spread your work around."

When she’s not hands-on with the business, Debbie spends time with her 16-year-old son, who is autistic. She volunteers in one of his school art classes, teaching the students to make simple pieces of jewelry. There’s a special connection she feels with her son when they work on projects together, whether it be art or gardening or spending time in nature. 

She also enjoys sharing the joys of her trade with customers. Taking the time to talk with people who visit her booth has given her more confidence and also given her time to reflect on the history of her tribe, which is from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. 

First Peoples Fund has been “awesome,” she said, in changing the way she sees her work and business. Looking down the road, she envisions a place where she has a better grasp of the business and has found balance in her work and home life.