Branches From A River Of Knowledge

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

 Lisa and Arlo Iron Cloud, during a day outside with their family. Photo by Leroy Iron Cloud.

Lisa and Arlo Iron Cloud, during a day outside with their family. Photo by Leroy Iron Cloud.

2018 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital fellow Lisa Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota) is a listener, community member, teacher, sewer, beader, traditional food maker/trader, hunter, and mother. Her husband, Arlo Iron Cloud Sr. (Oglala Lakota), is also a 2018 Cultural Capital fellow. He works for KILI Radio and Thunder Valley CDC on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The couple reside in Rapid City, South Dakota, with their four children.


Like a river, knowledge flows from elders and culture bearers. Then it branches off into communities, families, and individuals. Lisa and Arlo are in those streams as they take knowledge poured into them and let it flow to others.

 Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud

Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud

In 2012, the couple created the Lakota Sewing Circle / Wiyan Omniciye. Lisa is using funds from her Cultural Capital fellowship to support the work of the circle, providing classes through the Lakota style of learning. She purchased arrow making supplies for the class to work with while listening to Joseph Marshall III (Sicangu Lakota) tell the story of the arrow.

“We have a passion for revitalizing our culture with nontraditional learning,” Arlo says. “Our work is hands-on — we’re teaching as we’re learning.”

After a parfleche bag making class, Lisa received calls asking if the family could teach outside of Rapid City. “Being able to go to other people to do these teachings was something new to us,” Lisa says, “It worked well.”

Arlo’s Cultural Capital project focuses on preserving the history of the KILI Radio station through interviews with its founders.

 Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud

Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud

While working on the project, Arlo continues learning and telling stories of their people’s traditional ways with the assistance of modern technology.

Using a camera and drone he purchased with his FPF funds, Arlo went on buffalo hunts with elder Richard Sherman (Oglala Lakota). Richard told Arlo to watch the buffalo, and the way they moved. Flying the drone above the running herd, they could see the flow of the buffalo herd as they moved just like a school of fish — knowledge long held by elders viewed through technology.

“These places that I love so much, I’m able to see them from a different perspective,” Arlo says. “And that’s what a lot of our community members like — seeing those perspectives. Because of the drone, I was able to show people shots of places we just can’t go.”

 Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud

Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud

There is no separation from art and life for Lisa, Arlo, and their four children. The family works together as those streams branching off from a river of knowledge to keep it flowing through their communities and beyond.