Lakota artist and filmmaker Keith Brave Heart. Photo by Jim Cortez
'Horse Nation of the Oceti Sakowin' Seeks Common Bonds
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Corespondent
Pine Ridge, S.D. – An art exhibit that explores how horses have shaped the history, spirituality, and culture of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people is being presented at the Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center.
“Horse Nation of the Oceti Sakowin” features more than 80 works including paintings, sculpture and beadwork.
Lakota filmmaker and artist Keith Brave Heart explained that the idea for the art exhibit began with his film “We Are a Horse Nation”. He said that project began with the elders.
“It all stems back to inspiration from hearing tribal elders tell a story about the horse and spirituality and its dynamics as far as place within our traditions,” recalled Brave Heart.
Lonely Warrior” Pen and ink, crayon on ledger paper - David Kills Pretty Enemy (Titonwan; Hunkpapa Lakota & Northern Arapaho; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe). Image courtesy Red Cloud Indian School
The horse’s place within those traditions ranges from use for travel and in combat to ranch animals and in rodeo competitions. This horse is also now used for therapy…especially among the youth.
Brave Heart traveled to reservations across the region to obtain stories about the horse from men and women, children and elders for his film.
“It was an opportunity for people who’d never been able to share their stories to have a voice,” commented Brave Heart.
But Brave Heart learned that the Horse Nation culture is large and multi-faceted.
“So a lot of the perspectives were different,” he noted. “As I started to film I wanted to make sure that there was a balance of people and of types of stories. Those that were traditionally themed, as far as those involved with the oral histories and spirituality and significance of the horse in ceremonies. But then also examples of the more recent history, like the cowboy era when a lot of our people were being great riders at rodeos.”
“Return to Crow Creek” Quilt - Gwen Westerman - Sisseton/Wahpeton; Dakota; Lake Traverse Reservation. Image courtesy Red Cloud Indian School
Community gatherings were held to glean the perspectives of horse men, traditional men, medicine men and those who organize horse rides. There was also separate meetings with women so their unique perspective could be included.
Brave Heart also contacted the Red Cloud Heritage Center for assistance with his film.
“They sent me a lot of the images that they identified in their data base that had a horse in it or that had titles involving the horse,” said Brave Heart. “Materials that included the horse like horse hair or whatever. And I went through them and selected the ones that I thought looked visually cool that I would like to include in the film. So we had all of those kind of marked and pooled and identified. But eventually just due to the time and how much it took for the editing process…I wasn’t able to include any of those images from the Heritage Center into the film.”
That art work along with additional submissions was used for the exhibit.
Brave Heart noted that the goal of the “Horse Nation of the Oceti Sakowin”…or Seven Council Fires…exhibit is not only to educate Native people about their own history with the horse, but to present the animal as a common bond for all people who respect what the Lakota refer to as Sunka Wakan.
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“We can utilize that horse still,” observed Brave Heart. “That’s what I’m demonstrating here with what I’m doing. We can still use this horse with whatever needs we may have. I think they can do more for us than we can do for ourselves. There’s a lot of people who love horses. And I’ve seen this with the film. People who may not even speak to Native people…but they love a horse. People who may not have any appreciation of or might not want to give any effort or any time to hearing anything about any other culture besides their own. Maybe the live with horses. Maybe they feed their horse before they feed themselves. Maybe they pray to whatever belief they have for their horses. And in that act…they’re living with that philosophy that we also have as a Horse Nation.”
“Horse Nation of the Oceti Sakowin” is at the Red Cloud Heritage Center through December 3. It then travels to the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City during the winter of 2016/2017 and then to the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings through August 2017.
(Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He
is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The
New Lakota Times. He can be heard on South Dakota Public Radio, National Public
Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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