Oglala Lakota Artspace
January 31, 2023

Oglala Lakota Artspace

A space for continuity

First Peoples Fund’s Oglala Lakota Artspace (OLA) has hosted many events supporting tribal creators and culture bearers since opening in early 2022. Amid workshops, a storytelling festival, jam sessions, and a new residency program, OLA also hosted a three-session sewing class for students from Pine Ridge Girls School in South Dakota in November 2022.

Oglala Lakota Artspace Program Manager, Leslie Mesteth (Oglala Lakota) says the sewing classes stemmed from a series of OLA sewing circles held during the fall of 2022. The sewing circle caught the attention of  Pine Ridge Girls’ School which lead to a partnership and a series of sewing classes. attention who in turn partnered with OLA to develop a class for their students. The Pine Ridge Girls School dress code requires students to have a ribbon skirt. Often, this is a challenge for families experiencing financial hardship and/or a lack of access to materials and resources. OLA saw this as an opportunity to not only develop a relationship with a regional school but also to share cultural knowledge while addressing a need among students and families.

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1. (L-R) Estella Apple, Brittny Cross, Jayan Janis 2. (L-R) Jenna Under Baggage, Libbie Loafer, Jayann Janis, Cedar Twiss, Shawntay Lupi, Larissa Yellow Shield, Brittny Cross, Laila Good Voice Eli, Estella Apple

The classes, hosted by Helene Gaddie (Oglala Lakota), taught participants how to create traditional items like ribbon skirts for use at their school and in cultural activities. Gaddie spent each session teaching students how to use sewing machines to create clothing like ribbon skirts and tea dresses appropriate for traditional hand games or sweat ceremonies. As a lifelong pow-wow dancer, Gaddie’s history with creating regalia and her existing studio at OLA made her the perfect choice to host the class. “She started out making regalia, so she learned a lot of these things from her family members, and now she’s able to pass that knowledge down to the community,” Mesteth said. “I think it’s really important to know these things - to carry on the ceremony and the cultural teachings.”

“They really like it - they like what they learned. I know one of the girls. She is my little niece, and she went home to her dad with her skirt and said, ‘look what I made on my own,’” Mesteth said. “It’s a time for them to come and create something at the art space they learned to do on their own.”  On the cultural impacts the sewing sessions present to youth participants, Mesteth said, “The sewing sessions allow knowledge to continue flowing from one generation to the next.”  

OLA continues to make strides toward creating a space for the community to gather, learn and share in a safe and comfortable environment. In the coming year, OLA will continue its work as a nexus of cultural knowledge and expression beginning with a series of star quilt workshops, the OLA Jam Sessions in partnership with Playing for Change - an international organization charged with inspiring and connecting the world through music, a beadwork workshop, and an inaugural Artist-in-Residence (AiR) program set to begin in 2023. First Peoples Fund is excited to see the OLA space activated by the community and we look forward to seeing it grow.

To learn more, contact leslie@firstpeoplesfund.org and visit our events page for regular updates.

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