The Mitakupi - or “my people” - Foundation was created in 2011 by Jennifer Jessum – an artist, producer, director and educator - after she witnessed the Pine Ridge Reservation’s suicide epidemic.
The Foundation started a monthly art competition for Lakota youth in March to bring awareness to the suicide issue and as a way to facilitate healing, says Jessum.
“With a lot of the issues that any teenager…and child deals with around the country…but specifically on the reservation there’s a lot of issue that they’re dealing with that can be really tough,” explains Jessum. “So art is a way for kids to connect with something that they can do anytime…anywhere and it’s a very healing force.”
This month’s Grand Prize winner is a student from Pine Ridge who attends school n Oelrichs. Jordan says he’s experienced the pain of suicide and now lives for his art every day.
“Just thinking about it…how many kids go through so much pain I school…even outside school at home,” Jordan comments. “And it hurts me so bad thinking that I went through it and I’m standing strong and…I just help my art work can help out to encourage other kids that they can pursue their dreams and goals and do better in life.”
The Mitakupi Foundation is hosting 2-week workshops on Pine Ridge this summer focusing on visual arts, film, dance, music, writing and storytelling. Jennifer Jessum notes that finding your own voice through the arts can be an important outlet when you’re growing up in an environment with so many negative influences.