By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Photos by Jordan Storrer of Lifeleak Visuals
Elexa Dawson is a founding member of an all-female acoustic roots band, Weda Skirts (formerly The Skirts), who have released and self-distributed two albums of original music written primarily by Elexa.
She is a mother, musician, and activist living in Chase County, Kansas, the heart of the Flint Hills. She is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a descendant of the Cherokee Nation with familial ties to the Chickamauga Cherokee. The tallgrass prairie on ancestral Kaw and Osage territory inspires her music and advocacy.
“Warm honey mixed with prairie dirt” flows from Elexa’s music as she draws from Americana and Roots styles, growing her brand as an artist and in her identity as a Native woman. Her first solo album, a concept album, is taking her down a path to rediscover the lives and history of women who walked before her.
“The theme is getting narrowed down to more of a study of the women in my ancestry,” Elexa says. “It’s gotten a lot heavier even than I thought it would.”
Her Cherokee grandmother would never discuss who she was. Only recently, Elexa’s family learned her heritage. On the other side of the family, Elexa is digging deep into the lives of women she descends from — stories of Potawatomi women, names unknown, marrying French fur traders.
“Reading more about that dynamic, and how their lives might have been,” she says. “It has been increasingly important to me to reclaim the traditional knowledge that my ancestors lived by. It’s important that my two daughters and their children will know who they are.”
Elexa was amazed at how the application for her 2019 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership program helped her articulate her dreams and desires for her career as a musician, singer, and songwriter. The process guided Elexa in writing the vision of what was in her heart and mind.
“Before I learned about this fellowship, I was looking at my future and seeking guidance on how my solo musical career will continue,” she says.
While the band, Weda Skirts, still performs, the band members often can’t travel with their other life commitments.
“I’ve always thought of them as a protective nest that my music could incubate in,” Elexa says. “I could trust them to take whatever I have and make it sound really great. Pulling these tender little eggs out of that nest and thinking about them outside Weda Skirts is a super vulnerable place for me to be, the process of reintroducing myself as a solo musician to venues. It all feels unsettled, but it’s invigorating.”