First Peoples Fund (Rapid City, SD)

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Julia Parker demonstrating her basket weaving 

Julia Parker, a basketweaver and 2007 NEA National Heritage Fellow, is one of the recipients of the Community Spirit Awards, honoring Native-American artists.  Photo courtesy of First Peoples Fund

Since 1999, the Community Spirit Awards have honored 36 artists from 26 different Native-American Nations from Alaska to Maine. Honorees are Native-American artists nominated by their tribes for their generosity, humility, and ability to inspire and teach. Their crafts range from the contemporary—mixed-media installations and photography—to the traditional—canoe-making and storytelling. For the past eight years, the awards were presented to those who keep alive the ancient way of life and resurrect forgotten tribal ceremonies and traditions.

In FY 2007, the First Peoples Fund received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $30,000 toward a publication commemorating the Community Spirit Award artists, featuring nine years’ worth of stories and anecdotes. The 72-page booklet will bring recognition to the diverse cultures within the Lakota Nation itself, as well as in the surrounding rural communities. “This gives us the opportunity to share the voices of the indigenous Americans with the rest of America,” said Lori Pourier, president of the First Peoples Fund. “A banker from a local community attended the ceremony last year. All he could say afterward was ‘I had no idea.’”

Included in the publication are biographies of the artists, samples of their work, and commentary from their nominators and others in their tribes. The publication will be distributed to local libraries and colleges as a learning tool, and to the artists’ tribes, where their tales will be preserved in print forever. Plans to create an interactive DVD-ROM are also in the works.

To honor these artists is to honor the communities themselves: it is the role of the artist in Northern Plains communities to serve the people by bringing them spirit and inspiration. Continuing this tradition is pivotal to preserving and sustaining the Lakota Nation’s unique culture. Said Pourier, “It’s interesting how when one member is honored, it inspires the spirit of others to serve, too.”

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)