The World came to Rapid City

Rapid City is a fairly small city in a relatively out-of-the-way place. Flying to Rapid City on the airlines requires a change of planes from most destinations. We are served by mid-sized commuter airlines, not the big planes flown on the major routes. If you want to drive into our town, we are more than 300 miles from a city that is larger than ours. That means that we are used to traveling. We know that sometimes it is simply necessary to go to other places in order to experience certain cultural and social events. That is no problem for us. We like our place and we are fond of solitude. The hills give us a ready opportunity to go off by ourselves and listen to the natural world.Those of us who are attracted to this place seem to also be well suited by personality to living here.

Still, it is a pleasant, if rare, occasion when people from many different places come to our community. It seemed as if the world came to Rapid City twice last week. The first was the funeral of Bishop Lorenzo Kelly last Tuesday, about which I’ve already blogged. Then, last night, a great community, vastly different from the crowd drawn for the church services for Bishop Kelly, came together in the performing arts center. As they say, I’m just glad I was there to see it.

I would have gone to the event just to hear the presentation by Jane Chu. It isn’t common for the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts to come to our town. Those of us who have invested our time and energies in the arts in our community take notice when an arts event in our town draws national attention. In the context of last night’s celebrations, the appearance of Jane Chu, however, was just a small part of the festivities.

I would have made a big effort to go to the event if its only draw was the Git Hoan Dancers. I’ve long had interest in the Pacific Northwest indigenous people and their culture. We learned more about the Tsimshian people in 2006 when our sabbatical took us to British Columbia. We got to see some of the elaborate masks that are a part of their dances, but those masks were parts of a static museum display. Last night they came alive with the dancers on the stage and singers drumming and intoning traditional songs. The dances were a rich and magnificent display of Tsimshian culture with elaborate costumes, bright colors, sacred dances and songs. The masks are manipulated with strings like marionettes for incredible motion and action.

It would have been a worthy outing just to hear the award winning Sicangu Lakota Hip Hop artist Frank Waln. This Rosebud Reservation native was a winner of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. A three-time winner of the Native American Music Awards, Frank has incredible stage presence and demonstrated his artistry by getting the somewhat staid upper midwestern Rapid City crowd fired up and clapping our hands. His worldwide travels have brought the story of Dakota Reservations to audiences far away from our area. He inspires youth and adults alike as he tells his story.

As a lover of books and poetry, I would have found it a good investment of my time to hear the slam poetry of Dances with Words. The pair of Lakota youth from Pine Ridge have been empowered by a youth development indicative of First Peoples Fund and the mentorship of some inspirational teachers. I had read about the program, but last night was the first time that I experienced the power of live poetry on the big stage. I won’t forget the poise and confidence of the poets or the eloquence with which they told their story.

There was so much more! The Lame Deer Singers, a traditional Pow Wow procession of fancy dancers, videos of traditional artists and award winners. One of my friends commented to me on the way out of the building that I must have enjoyed the video about the traditional birch bark canoe by Wayne Valliere and Ojibwe youth. I was. It wasn’t the only thing that inspired me. There were two Native Hawaiian artists honored, amazing basket making and quill work, and a lot of other gorgeous displays.

In my previous experience, I have had the opportunity to hear quite a few groups of male singers, but I had never heard traditional songs presented the way that Jennifer Kreisberg and Pure Fe Crescioni sang. Both are amazing solo artists, but when they sang together the room was filled in a way that is impossible to describe. You had to be there. You can see why they have been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and the Olympics. It was simply amazing.

And this brief essay doesn’t mention all of the artists and all of the contributions they have made to our community. Honoree Jack Wallace Gladston, a member of the Blackfeet Nation from East Glacier, Montana, gave presentations of song and story in three Rapid City Schools on Friday. It is just part of his way of life that includes the amazing generosity of spirit and passion for educating children. Jack was a star athlete and football standout for the University of Washington and now dedicates his life to sharing his culture and heritage with children and adults.

Chief Phillip Whiteman, Jr., who along with Lynette Two Bulls was an honoree, sang a powerful honor song as a response to the award they received. Among other contributions to community, Whiteman and Two Bulls are founders of the Fort Robinson Break Out Run, an immersive, five-day re-creation of an historic wintertime escape and journey home.

Indeed it certainly seems as if the world has come to Rapid City in the past week. Such amazing people have come to our town. I’m grateful I was there to see and hear and experience part of it.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!