Akisa 2022
The Akisa 2022 was announced as being “canceled” only a day before the event scheduled in Rapid City, South Dakota, on April 15, 2022. Photo: Rushmore Mall
Native artists ‘left hanging’ after big event fizzles out
Saturday, April 16, 2022
Indianz.Com

An ambitious showcase of Native talent scheduled for Saturday in Rapid City, South Dakota, devolved into controversy and recrimination this week when the show’s promoter allegedly failed to fulfill his financial commitments to performers and vendors.

Several of the performers who were expected to take the stage at the concert, billed Akisa 2022: In a Good Way, backed out of the event on Thursday and Friday saying the event’s promoter, Brandon Ferguson, failed to pay them for their travel costs and hotel rooms.

Robin Opichee Day-Bedeau, aka Opie Day, the lead singer for drum group Midnite Express Singers, said Ferguson promised to cover his travel and hotel costs when he initially asked him to perform.

“Now when I’m asking him for confirmation about our rooms & compensation he ghosts me,” Day-Bedeau wrote. “It is now almost midnight on the day before we are scheduled to leave & still no answer.”

It was a great weekend for us amongst our Sisseton Wapheton relatives. Besides taking in all the awesome singing &…

Posted by Midnite Express Singers on Monday, November 15, 2021

By Friday afternoon, even the venue for the event – the Rushmore Mall in Rapid City – had ended its involvement in the event.

“The Akisa 2022 event has been canceled due to performances not happening,” the company wrote on its Facebook page.

But by Friday evening, a Rapid City Native nonprofit had stepped forward saying it would host the event, renaming it FTP Fest (For the People Festival) and changing the venue to the Rapid Skillz Athletic Complex in Rapid City.

“As a community, we have also been coming together in unity to call out racism and build a better future for Native people,” NDN Collective wrote on its Facebook page. “Let’s come together and celebrate through music, culture and entertainment.”

In an interview with Indianz.Com, Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of NDN Collective, said his organization got involved in planning the festival on Thursday after being contacted by several performers who had been booked for Akisa 2022.

“A bunch of the artists were left hanging by Brandon Ferguson, the organizer of the Akisa 2022 event, and that he basically ghosted them and he wasn’t following through on any of the commitments that he made to the artists,” Tilsen said.

He said his staff held a meeting with some of the artists and decided to host an entirely new event.

“We took a really unfortunate situation and are trying to make something really positive out of it that both uplifts the artists and creates something healthy and positive for the Native community and our allies in the broader community here in Rapid City,” he said.

Tilsen said he doesn’t know how Ferguson had planned to fund the travel, hotel and performance fees for those scheduled to perform Saturday.

“We’re funding the whole thing out of our budget because, honestly, to do it last minute like this, we’re all in work mode,” he said. “We actually don’t have time to raise money for this event.”

He said NDN Collective would pay the artists for their travel and time, as well as provide the sound, lighting and all other logistics needed to host the event.

And Tilsen offered his thoughts about the mistreatment of Native artists.

“It’s important that we value our artists,” he said. “They contribute so much to our society.”

“We should not be leaving them hanging them like this.”

One of the performers allegedly “left hanging” by Ferguson was Trenton Casillas, aka Let It Bee, a 25-year-old hip-hop artist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

He said he didn’t know anything about Ferguson before agreeing to perform Saturday in Rapid City. He said at first Ferguson seemed legitimate and capable of hosting the event. But then Ferguson’s actions began to worry Casillas.

“He just kept getting weirder and weirder,” he said of Ferguson. “He wasn’t very transparent. … He tricked us all into thinking that he got this all on lock.”

Eventually, after Casillas began questioning Ferguson about whether he had properly secured the venue, Ferguson kicked him from the event.

“Last thing he said to me was don’t tell me what the F to do,” he said.

Ferguson, who describes himself on his Facebook profile as a “national award winning film director and entertainer from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” did not respond to a request for comment from Indianz.Com.

Posted by Brandon Ferguson on Friday, April 15, 2022
Brandon Ferguson: Friday, April 15, 2022

But in a late Friday night video that he posted on his page, Ferguson defended his handling of the Akisa 2022 event, saying he was being unfairly targeted for his “dark past.”

“A couple weeks ago I had an idea about us putting on an event here in Rapid City where we would be able to bring our families and youth together,” he said. “They wouldn’t have to hear the word racism and they wouldn’t have to hear the word landback and they wouldn’t have to feel like being present that people were going to judge them because they were picking a side.”

He said he began organizing the event a little more than a week ago because he wanted to bring the community – Natives and non-Natives – together following a tumultuous series of events that began March 19 when a young Lakota man shot and critically injured another young Lakota man who later died. A day later, Connie Uhre, who owns The Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota, announced she was banning all Native Americans from her hotel.

In response, NDN Collective filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, and several days later nearly 1,000 Natives and others marched in Rapid City to protest Uhre’s actions.

“It’s really sad because we’ve got a lot of business owners that truly do love us and a lot of people that really do appreciate our business,” Ferguson said. “We wanted to do an event that brought everyone in the community together. We wanted to feed them and we wanted to have some really good music and laugh together.”

He mentioned several Rapid City businesses who had provided support for the Akisa 2022 event, including Hotel Alex Johnson, Visit Rapid City, Elevate, Ramkota, Country Inn and Suites and Lil Gailes, a Native-owned clothing store.

He said he secured commitments from more than 40 Native musicians to perform and hotel rooms for all the performers.

“It was always with the best of intentions that I wanted to create an event like this and make it a reality and I had no intentions on causing any harm to anyone,” Ferguson said. “But the thing and the reality is I’ve got a dark past, a bad past where I’ve sat a lot of time in prison. Yes, I am a felon and yes, I was found guilty of embezzlement from our tribe 10 years ago.”

He said he doesn’t plan to host any other events in the future.

“I’m not going to able to bring our Native people together for projects because this is what’s going to happen every time,” he said. “I’m always going to have a fan club that has a desire that every time Brandon tries to do something we’re going to bring him down.”

But Ferguson’s “dark past” may not be as distant as he claims, according to one Oglala Lakota family that claims Ferguson raised a large sum of money for one of their relatives in January but only spent a small portion of the funds he raised to help their relative.

In January, Ferguson raised nearly $28,000 through a GoFundMe page for Lynn Two Bulls and Aaron Two Crow, an elderly couple living in a run-down trailer house with several grandchildren in Kyle, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

After posting a series of alarming photographs inside the couple’s trailer house, Ferguson managed to raise nearly $23,000 in barely a day. He told supporters he would purchase a new mobile home for the couple as a temporary solution until he could have a wood frame house constructed for the family.

But as of Friday, more than three months after raising the funds for the couple, Ferguson had managed only to purchase a used trailer house for the couple. The family believes the trailer cost about $7,000 — or only about 30 percent of the $23,000 raised. And while the couple is grateful for the home, the home lacks electricity, running water or propane.

Only a small fireplace inside the home can be used to heat it, and the family has cordoned off most of the trailer because the fireplace can’t heat the entire building, said Michelle Two Bulls, Lynn Two Bulls’ daughter.

Michelle Two Bulls said Ferguson also promised to purchase a second mobile home for her younger sister but after purchasing a second trailer house, Ferguson actually sold it to a buyer. And despite promises to pay her mother’s utility bills for a year, Ferguson failed to pay for anything else except for a single payment of $160 for electricity and $100 for groceries, Two Bulls said.

In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, Ferguson claimed that Lynn Two Bulls’ daughters had contacted GoFundMe and filed complaints, requesting they be given control of the account. The company granted their request under the condition that all funds raised be returned to individual donors and that the Two Bulls family repost the page as a new fundraiser.

But Michelle Two Bulls said she received a message from GoFundMe that Ferguson had already withdrawn the entire amount raised by the GoFundMe page – $26,061 after fees – prior to it being shut down by GoFundMe.

And the new fundraiser that the Two Bulls family posted afterward only raised $155 before Two Bulls decided to shut it down.

As of Friday, she said her mother’s living conditions had improved little since Ferguson got involved in trying to help her, and now Ferguson has said he won’t be helping the family anymore.

“She’s living like she was before, no light, no propane,” she said. “In the end, he just used my mom and forgot about her.”

“His greed got the best of him.”