- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A nonprofit that for almost three decades has provided youth programs on South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Indian Reservation is establishing a formal arts institute this year that will offer greater access to traditional Lakota arts, fine art, and graffiti and street art.

The Waniyetu Wowapi - Winter Count - Lakota Arts Institute, a project of the Cheyenne River Youth Project nonprofit, ultimately expects to offer more than 100 arts classes annually, events and a gallery featuring rotating exhibitions.

“We want to offer our kids opportunities to grow, help them become well-rounded people,” said executive director Julie Garreau. “A lot of kids get that in off-reservation school systems or bigger city areas, and they can say ‘Oh, I want to be a writer’ or ‘I want to be an artist.’ Well, we have limited resources on the reservation, so we’re working to complement what school systems can do.”

The organization received a more than $300,000 grant last month as one of 29 projects that ArtPlace America - a collaboration of foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions - chose to fund out of a pool of 1,400 applicants.

Generations of Lakota painted and drew on walls, buffalo hides and tipis to preserve their history. These days, they celebrate their culture in paintings, jewelry and ceremonial regalia - creating earrings, rawhide bags, featherwork, drums and other artwork.

“There is no word for art in the Lakota language; it goes from arrow to article in the dictionary,” said Craig Howe, executive director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies. “So, that was not seen as a separate activity from everyday life and in society and in culture. So, on that basis, it’s a way of life.”

The Cheyenne River Youth Project estimates the institute will serve about 1,700 children and 400 families. Over the past two years, 400 youth have completed one of the organization’s internship programs, guaranteeing them 80 hours of arts, job skills and leadership training.

About 70 percent of the nearly 16,000 members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe live on the central South Dakota reservation, according to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. With its 1.4 million acres, the reservation is among the largest in the nation, and like in many other tribal communities, poverty has been a constant for decades. Children and adults here are no strangers to domestic violence and drug abuse.

The new arts program could help students find their voices, said Rebecca Bourgault, head of art education at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts.

“Students have to make their own choices. They also have to explain why they made those choices,” Bourgault said. “So, if they are trying to draw something, and it has to have a sense of space, and they don’t know how to do the illusion of space in drawing, they have to struggle. They come to their own understanding.”

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Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO

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