Lakota Audio Artifacts Returned To Oglala

Oct 13, 2016

Tawa Ducheneaux - Oglala Lakota College Archivist (left front); John Yellow Bird Steele - Oglala Sioux Tribe President (right front); Clifford Brown, Director of Folk & Traditional Arts, NEA (left rear); and Jane Chu - NEA Chairman (right rear) arrive for Nation-to-Nation repatriation ceremony of Lakota cultural audio artifacts in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Credit Courtesy Arlo Iron Cloud
The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts was in South Dakota over the holiday weekend. Jane Chu visited the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Black Hills Pow Wow and took part in two ceremonies that acknowledged Native American cultures – past and present. SDPB’s Jim Kent has the story.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu was in the Black Hills on a twofold mission. First was the repatriation of Oglala Lakota cultural audio artifacts from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to Oglala Lakota College.

“The first recordings were created in 1896 by Alice Cunningham Fletcher,” explains Chu. “And she made them in Washington, D.C. And the purpose was to record and preserve the sounds of the people. Those recordings were of sacred music that was created by an Oglala Lakota Sundance singer named Thunder Bear.”

The second set of audio artifacts were created during World War Two.

“About 8 hours of recordings that were made by Willard Rhodes…here on the Pine Ridge Reservation from 1941 to about 1947,” notes Chu.

Chu says these recordings include secular music.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu (4th from left) visits Red Shirt Table – on the Pine Ridge Reservation - with First Peoples Fund honorees.
Credit Courtesy First Peoples Fund

She says they are accompanied by photographs and journal writings that reflect the lives of the Oglala Lakota during that time period.

Moving forward to contemporary Native American culture Chairman Chu attended the Community Spirit Awards ceremony. Hosted by First Peoples Fund the awards acknowledge the contributions of Native leaders in their communities.

“It’s about recognizing how the power of the arts and culture bring positive changes to Native communities,” observes Chu. “And the National Endowment for the Arts’ mission is to make sure that all Americans have the opportunity to be engaged with and benefit from the arts.” 

Jane Chu is a first-generation Chinese-American who grew up in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Chu says she can attest to the need for everyone to learn how to understand and appreciate the various backgrounds and cultures that comprise our country. She adds that the arts can be an excellent tool for greater understanding among people to facilitate cross-cultural appreciation.

Related links: 

National Endowment for the Arts

Oglala Lakota College