RAPID CITY, S.D. - Artists are the soul of a community; they use their skills to educate and continue growth of a culture and either create traditional, functional art or move in other, more abstract directions.
Five artists, selected from across the nation were honored by the First People's Fund for contributions to their communities and their culture almost more than for their artistic skills, which are vast and creative.
"We believe that artists play an important role in sustaining Indian communities. Through their artistic creations, they help the people to know who they are, where they come from and where they are going," said Lori Pourier, executive director of First People's Fund.
"Whether these artists are producing items for ceremonial, decorative or utilitarian use, they are carrying on the spirituality, lifeways, histories and traditions of their tribes.
"The First People's Fund is honored to be able to recognize these talented people who are living examples of generosity, responsibility and strength."
The Community Spirit Awards are not just for artworks, but as the event proclaims, for contributions to community, to culture, to traditions and to people. These artists are also mentors and teachers of their culture.
The Community Spirit Awards event was not an art show; it was a theatrical event that showcased the artists in an evening of entertainment and enlightenment."Artists let us know who we are. This is not just art," said John Goes in Center, Oglala Lakota and president of First People's Fund.
"In the Lakota there is no word for art. There is spirit behind what it is and we honor the creation itself. It is important to bring back to the community, the spirit of giving back to the community," Goes in Center said.
The audience and the artists were treated to more than an introduction and explanation of the works. It became a mini-concert by Ulali including the visual performance of Vanessa Short Bull. It was a special celebration of performing arts that honored the Community Spirit Awards recipients with a level of excellence the evening and the artists so richly deserved.
Ulali interspersed its astonishing musical styling of American Indian music between introductions of the artists.
Short Bull, Lakota, ballet dancer and comedienne and a former Miss South Dakota performed classical ballet dance to the music of Ulali. This may have been the first time this combination, classical ballet and American Indian music were merged with such elegance. She also used dance to draw attention to the art work of the five honored artists.
The Community Spirit Awards, held for the first time in South Dakota, was truly a community event.
"It was a great event. I was impressed and humbled to meet with the other artists," said Pete Peterson, Skokomish artist. "I enjoyed it and we were treated well. It was an honor to meet the governor and the mayor of Rapid City."
Gov. Mike Rounds and Rapid City Mayor Jim Shaw were on hand and a few hundred people came to honor the artists.
Mayor Shaw said it was one of the best performances and events he had ever attended. He is serving his second term as mayor of Rapid City.
"The event recognized the core value of the arts. It is important to join efforts of the First People's Fund. We are like beads. Different colors and texture but on one strand and it takes the artists to put it together," Shaw said.
The main event, the awards ceremony, which was open to the public, was not the only place where the honoring took place. The artists and the board of First People's Fund gathered for social events and the day after the ceremony the most emotional part of the gathering took place at a long luncheon.
The artists honored at the ceremony were: Ollie Napesni, Sicangu Lakota, beadwork, quilter, doll maker and storyteller; Adeline Miller, Paiute, Wasco, Sahptin, from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, a weaver, bead worker, tribal song and dance teacher and participant and a teacher of language in schools; Pete Peterson Sr., Skokomish, a Coast Salish carver who makes bentwood masks and boxes; Lyn Risling, Yurok, Karuk, Hupa, a painter, ceremonial regalia designer who performs songs, dances and tells stories and Donald and Mary Sanipass, Micmac, the first couple honored together who do traditional basket making.