Revitalizing the North American Indigenous Flute

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

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Kevin Locke is an internationally-recognized master traditional folk artist, visionary hoop dancer, indigenous Northern Plains flute player/recording artist, cultural ambassador, and an educator. A citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and coming from the ancestral line of Lakota and Anishinabe, he self identifies as a World Citizen.

Since 1978, Kevin has traveled to nearly 100 countries to educate, entertain, engage, and empower 1,000,000 people. He currently serves as president of the Patricia Locke Foundation.

The Arctic, tropics, deserts, rain forests, woodlands, prairies, megacities, and isolated villages. Of all the places and people he’s encountered, Kevin’s favorite remains youth in rural North America. He works with them in his effort to revitalize the North American Indigenous Flute.

“For hundreds of years, we’ve had flutes in North America,” Kevin says. “It has a unique, versatile tuning system. [In recent history] someone made flutes with a minor pentatonic scale. Pretty soon, everybody was making these flutes, doing workshops and recordings, and forgot there was even a traditional flute. It is my vision to honor the authentic history, tradition, and teachings of the Indigenous North American Flute.”

Kevin partnered with renowned music educator, Richard Dubé — owner of Northern Spirit Flutes — to create a kit to reintroduce the original flute. The design is based on a flute in Kevin’s own collection, his grandfather Powasheik’s flute which is over 100 years old.

Supported in part by his 2019 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital fellowship, Kevin has scheduled workshops at 10 schools where he expects up to 25 students at each one.

They begin with assembling flutes from the kits that include pre-drilled, food grade plastic tubes. In 20 minutes, a youth can place her fingers over the holes and breathe her first song.


After the first workshop day, Kevin leads a general assembly, the “Hoop of Life” program, at the school. It’s common to have 500 people in the audience filled with parents, teachers, and staff. The students perform, and Kevin does a presentation with flute songs, prayers, and sign language. He ends the program with a participatory hoop dance incorporating 28 hoops.

“I found that interactive participation is the only way to make ancestral wisdom and teachings come alive and take root in the hearts of the students,” he says.

Kevin is preparing for events this spring — U.S. Embassy tour to a festival and indigenous communities in Panama; Phoenix for the FPF Fellows Convening; and schools in Bismarck, South Dakota. Wherever in the world he goes, youth remain his focus.

Kevin says, “My primary inspiration comes from the sense and expression of wonderment and awe from the children.”