A recent meeting of the Lakota Sewing Circle in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo: Lakota Sewing Circle

Native Sun News Today: Lakota Sewing Circle fosters a sense of community

Finding friendship and comfort in a Lakota Sewing Circle

By Jaclyn Lanae
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY - Lisa Iron Cloud was 33 years old when she started the Lakota Sewing Club in Wounded Knee, but she was just a child when she first felt the impact of that tradition.

Her mother had taken her to a building near Head Start in Pine Ridge, and as soon as she walked through the door she felt a sense of comfort. There was nothing particularly special about the space, but the collection of women who sat around a simple white table covered in yarn and cloth, chatting in Lakota and giggling with one another gave Iron Cloud a sense of comfort.

Relaying the memory to her husband, Arlo, years later she commented “It would be nice to start something like that again,” and almost immediately the couple set to creating the Lakota Sewing Circle - or Club, as they called initially dubbed it.

“When we started talking about it we wanted to involve food,” she remembers, “so we made it a potluck, and that kind of stuck.”

Every other week at the Arroba Complex in Wounded Knee, the group would gather to share knowledge, food, and fellowship.

“We thought we’d get a lot of seasoned sewers,” Iron Cloud says of the early days of the project.

But of the seven or so people who showed up, the couple’s upstairs neighbor and Tunwin (Aunt) - Judy Cornelius - was the only one with any real experience. So, she helped to get the group going, teaching any who wanted to learn.

The Iron Clouds were surprised to find that many of the seasoned sewers they had expected to help teach, like Arlo’s mother - who had been sewing everything as long as he could remember - were actually coming to learn. The couple was even more surprised by the level of interest in the community.

Just a year after they began though, in the spring of 2013, the Iron Clouds made the move to Rapid City and in the vacuum of their leadership, the Club on Wounded Knee dissolved.

As the Iron Cloud family settled into their lives here, Lisa began again yearning for that kind of community, that kind of fellowship, and when she mentioned her nostalgia for the group they’d built at Wounded Knee, a co-worker suggested she start it up again, this time here in Rapid City.

The space, of course, was the most challenging issue - not to mention the cost of supplies; sewing machines, thread, scissors and the like. Lisa reached out to a local organization for support but was met with negativity and discouragement. Her passion for the project though, along with support from Arlo, pushed her to continue and eventually she negotiated an affordable space at the Oyate Center near Lakota Homes.

“It was slow going here, at first,” Lisa remembers of the early days of the Rapid City group, and “she really invested a lot in it,” Arlo says. “She sent out donation letters and requests, started a Fundly account to help raise funds, pillaged thrift stores and garage sales for equipment,” Arlo says.

It was Lisa’s commitment to the project, along with support from Arlo, his cousin Kristina, and friend of the family Ann Shabi, that kept things moving and eventually the group began to coalesce into a core six members; Lisa and Arlo Iron Cloud, of course, Helena Danielson, Thony Medicine Eagle-Schweigman, Anita Afraid Of Lightning, and Dolly Red Elk. The latter two were also fluent Lakota speakers and so was born the tradition of learning a new Lakota word at each “meet”.

“It’s not a class,” Iron Cloud asserts. “We’re not there to tell people what to learn or how… we just want a community project where people can come together to share what they know, work on their own projects, and just enjoy the fellowship.”


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Finding friendship and comfort in a Lakota Sewing Circle
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