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Arts & Life

Man Teaches Lakota Lessons Through Hoops

Kealey Bultena
Dallas Chief Eagle stands in front of students at R.F. Pettigrew Elementary School in Sioux Falls.

A Lakota man is celebrating three decades teaching life lessons to elementary school students through Native American dance. Dallas Chief Eagle started working as an artist-in-residence for schools in the mid-1980s. Today he’s still sharing Lakota culture with school children across the state.

In his performance, Dallas Chief Eagle rapidly moves his feet as he glides across a gym floor, picking up plastic hoops. He links them together in a long line. Chief Eagle tosses the chain into the air, and spins the hoops over the heads of screaming elementary school students.

Chief Eagle uses the hoops to build wings for himself. He launches the hoops into the air. He finishes sitting in the middle of hoops all linked together around his body.

Kids watching describe the hoop dancing as fantastic, awesome, fabulous, and terrific. Chief Eagle says the performance speaks to them. He says these little ones naturally connect with Native American teachings. Chief Eagle says kids understand traditional wisdom.

"I let them know your spirit doesn’t see the colors of people or the ages of people or their disabilities or their faults. You see them as spirits," Chief Eagle says. "Once your spirit is leading you, leading the four medicines – and when they see everybody as spirits, that makes a lot of sense to them.

"I let them know your spirit doesn't see the colors of people or the ages of people or their disabilities or their faults."

Chief Eagle says the performance includes symbols for animals and journeys – and the hoop represents the spirit.

"As you grow older, well, you add more things to it, more teaching lessons on the circle of life," Chief Eagle says. "How well we take care of our own personal hoop, our own spirit, will determine how we dance with all those other hoops and spirits throughout our lifespan, and it’s something that my relatives knew a long time ago."

Chief Eagle stands tall as children fidget and line up to return to class. His hair piece of deer tail and porcupine hair stands almost a foot off of his head and fans out down to his neck. His black glasses match beadwork he dons; that symbolizes the dragonfly. Chief Eagle smiles and prepares for his next hoop dance.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
A student helps Dallas Chief Eagle during his hoop dancing assembly at a Sioux Falls school.