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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 19, 2002 - Issue 72


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After-school Project Teaches Lakota Language, Culture

by Heidi Bell Gease, Rapid City Journal Staff Writer
credits: Alan Carroll/Journal staff
QuiltmakingRAPID CITY, SD - School is out for the day, but Anthony Spotted Wolf isn't watching TV or playing video games.

Instead, the seventh-grader sits focused on another task. Carefully, he stitches shiny pink and green beads onto a piece of leather, winding the design into an ever-expanding circle.

Eventually, the beaded circle will become a rosette, part of the fancy-dance outfit Anthony will wear for the first time at a December powwow. He is making the rest of the outfit, too, and his mother, Gloria Eastman, is helping make his feather bustle from a kit.

The powwow, the after-school sessions and even the bustle kit are part of the Little White Buffalo Project, a grant-supported program started by Susana Geliga.

Just as Anthony's bead circle keeps expanding, Geliga hopes Little White Buffalo will continue to grow. She started the project to restore Lakota heritage to young people but has larger dreams of creating future leaders who can protect, and seek guidance from, traditional Lakota culture.

Geliga makes that learning fun. Two afternoons each week, about a dozen students meet to work on dance outfits or cultural craft projects. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, they learn the Lakota language.

"The ultimate goal is to be able to build a Native American resource center and, actually, a Lakota language-education and resource center," she said.

Little White Buffalo was born when Geliga took part in the Indigenous Women's Network's Emerging Artist Leadership Program. For several years, she taught language and culture at schools and community programs — she still teaches Lakota at Central High School and Oglala Lakota College. She also started Native Voices, a student organization at Central.

Now, Little White Buffalo Project has its own permanent space, in Suites 211-213 in the Buell Building. That has allowed the project to expand. Every Friday from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Lakota elders are invited to a Wakalyapi (Coffee) Hour, where they can drink coffee and share stories.

Adults who want to learn the Lakota language are also invited to Wakalyapi Hour. And Geliga hopes they will get involved in making star quilts, with sewing machines and fabric provided by Little White Buffalo.

The project is funded through grants from Running Strong for American Indian Youth, Seventh Generation Fund, Dakota Indian Foundation, and the Shakopee tribe. It is free and open to anyone older than 10.

Some students who participate knew Geliga from school or her work with Youth Development Program. Others heard about Little White Buffalo by word of mouth or through fliers.

"I just came here because I like language," Veronica Stroebel, a freshman at Stevens High School, said.

"It's good."

Her younger brother, Xavier DeBlieck, a sixth-grader at West Middle School, prefers the craft sessions. So does Travis Spotted Wolf, a fifth-grader at Horace Mann Elementary.

"I like the beading," said Kolette Medicine, a sophomore at Central High School, who sat stitching a beaded feather. "It just relaxes me when I bead."

Classmate Kateri Traversie sewed sequins onto a bandana, helping Richard Poor Thunder — also a sophomore at Central — update his grass-dance outfit.

Little White Buffalo Project has become a family activity for Gloria Eastman and her sons Anthony and Travis, who attend together when Eastman isn't attending class at Oglala Lakota College. She expects her mother to start attending Wakalyapi Hour, too. "She likes to make star quilts," Eastman said.

The fall session will culminate in a Dec. 21 Christmas powwow and community feed, where some of the Little White Buffalo students will dance for the first time in outfits they themselves have made.

That will be a learning experience — but fun, too. "We're just going to shake our fringe and have a good time," Geliga said.

For more information, call Susana Geliga at (605) 716-3200.

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