- Associated Press - Sunday, February 5, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - After an extensive application that survived three competitive rounds, the results came in: Kelsey Tortalita, 20, had won the Dreamstarter grant.

With the $10,000 dollars she has received, Tortalita started a beading program for local Native American youth to learn tips, techniques as well as the basics of dancing.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where beading and going to powwows was very important and encouraged,” Tortalita said. “During my school career, I had friends ask me to bead things for them. … I wanted to give urban Native American kids a chance to learn this skill that was once common knowledge.”

A few years ago, Tortalita took a friend to a Minnesota powwow. During the week, she taught her friend how to bead - enough so the friend was able to make a beaded earring. This experience, too, led Tortalita to the idea she could teach others and find it rewarding.

The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2iyO5X4) reports that Tortalita learned about the grant application from her mentor, Cheryl Kary, a friend of the family.

“She said she would help me get all the things I needed to apply for the grant together, and that all I really needed to do was bring a good idea that was ready …. Luckily, I had had an idea in the back of my mind for a while,” Tortalita said.

Totalita said she was happy to get through the first two rounds of the national competition. She continued to check her email.

“I was in the computer lab at school when I got the email saying my idea was one of the 10 selected for the grant,” Tortalita said. “I had to keep my excitement in until I left …. All I could do was sit there and smile really big. I texted my mom and the rest of my family right away and then let Cheryl know.”

The Dreamstarter program was created by the Running Strong for American Indian Youth nonprofit, whose spokesperson is Olympic gold medalist and Native American Billy Mills, according to Cheryl Kary, executive director of the Sacred Pipe Resource Center.

Kelsey is one of 10 Native American youth chosen from across the U.S.,” Kary said.

Three to seven students, ranging in age from 12 to 17, typically attend Tortalita’s class. For her second session, Tortalita plans to have her current students help teach the newcomers, who will learn two of the most common stitches for beading.

“We are also teaching them the basic things they will need to start dancing at powwows … how to make outfits and how to dance,” Tortalita said. “I encourage students to come and learn a little more culture. I want to give them something they can feel good about making and something to look forward to finishing.”

Tortalita finds beadwork teaches patience.

“I’ve always been interested in art and … the only time I showed any patience is when I was working on an art project,” Tortalita said. “I transferred that same mindset to beading and realized that I could make some very cool things if I put my mind to it. Beading is also a way to stay connected to my culture during the winter months when not very many powwows are happening.”

Over the years, she has found she favors medallions and bow ties.

“My favorite part is getting to share beading with others, and knowing that I’m passing on knowledge that has been passed down for generations … doing my part to make sure it doesn’t get lost,” Tortalita said.

Despite beading traditionally being considered as a woman-only pursuit, Tortalita stresses that isn’t the case.

“We have one brave boy that joined our first session,” Tortalita said. “I want to tell anyone with sons, nephews, brothers or grandsons that beading is not just for girls. More and more men are getting into beading. It’s always cool to see their style of beadwork, because they bring totally new ideas than women. So I encourage young men to try out the class because they might find they have a knack for beading.”

The program began in July 2016 and the grant concludes in July, according to Kary.

“We’re going to try to keep the program going through the Sacred Pipe Resource Center,” she said.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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