RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Four people who maintain their tribal culture and
tradition, unselfishly passing the knowledge of traditional crafts, arts,
stories, songs and dance to young people, were applicants to receive this
year's prestigious First Peoples Fund Community Spirit Awards.
First Peoples Fund has honored artists since 1999 with the fellowship award
and has given away some $120,000. Each honoree receives a $5,000 stipend.
The four people are honored at a special ceremony held for past two years.
The award winners are chosen for their work to sustain the culture and
"They are core caretakers of wisdom and art. They are weavers, quilt
makers, singer, dancers and teachers," said Lori Pourier, director of First
Artists are nominated by members of their communities for their work to
sustain a community spirit and some have no art show experience.
This year's award ceremony will be held on Dec. 3 in Rapid City. An exhibit
of the artists' works will be on display at the Sioux Indian Museum at the
This year, a storyteller, a birch bark basket and canoe maker, a weaver and
printmaker, and a painter and sculptor have been chosen.
Nellie Two Bulls, Oglala Lakota elder, was chosen for her work as a
storyteller and singer who passes the stories and songs down to children
"My art is my ability to sing and tell stories about my people, the Oglala
Lakota. I have spent the majority of my life telling stories and singing
the traditional Lakota songs. This is my contribution to preserving our
culture," Two Bulls said.
She is called "Grandma Nellie" in her home on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Her nominators said that her mind and spirit are sacred repositories for
the songs and stories of the Lakota people.
Weaver Lois Chichinoff Thadei, Aleut, of Olympia, Wash., is another
"Weaving is the core of my creative expression. Guided by ancient hands and
echoes of voices recently passed, I manipulate materials.
"My art is practiced with friends, across artistic disciplines and
sometimes miles. Once I acquire knowledge, I immediately pass it on to
others, for I cannot remember alone. I believe the bit of knowledge I have,
when paired with a bit of knowledge from another, will be bigger than the
both," Chichinoff Thadei said.
She teaches weaving classes by example, passes along technical skills and
finds a venue to show off their accomplishments, her nominator, Pete
Peterson Sr., said. "She is one who teaches by example and one always feels
richer having spent even a little time with her," he said.
The third recipient of the Community Spirit Award is Apolonia Susana
Santos, Tygh Yakama, from Warm Springs, Ore. She is a painter and sculptor.
"Susana has always been so generous with herself. Through sharing her
skills and talents with others, especially the youth, she has assisted
directly in the transformation of many lives through artistic expression,
cultural teaching and by providing valuable information she has learned
along her path about caring for our Mother Earth and all she provides us,"
said Susan Balbas, who nominated Santos.
Santos said the next generation may be dependent on the art and how people
act today for continued survival. She said she creates art as an effort to
manifest or explore the human spirit and to heal the wounded spirits.
"I only hope that my art serves to depict strong images of nature, women
and our men, in order to recapture memory."
This personal journey to healing and artistic enlightenment involved the
prayers and ceremonies of medicine societies and people throughout the
world from the "Canadian and Amazon rainforests, Hawaiian Islands, Mexico
and other indigenous and interfaith communities," Santos said.
Recipients of the Community Spirit Awards come from all corners of the
country, as has been the practice of First Peoples Fund from the very
beginning in 1995.
The fourth recipient of this year's award is from Perry, Maine. David Moses
Bridges, Passamaquoddy and Wabanaki, creates birch bark canoes and baskets.
"As I work within our Wabanaki communities I feel a deep connection with
the past and I remind our young people that this work is not mine alone. It
was created by the land and our people," Bridges said.
His canoes match the traditional hull forms that were made for centuries.
He uses traditional methods of fastening and joining; no nails, screws or
other fasteners are used in his construction.
"David's canoes, his art, are based on a particular worldview that's not
only uniquely Passamaquoddy, it is an expression that promises and speaks
to Passamaquoddy cultural vitality and creativity," said Vera Francis, his
First Peoples Fund was established to honor and support creative,
community-centered artists. The organization has three elements. One of
them, the Artist in Business Leadership Program, awards four or five
working artists a living stipend for a year. The fellows participate in
intensive group trainings and have access to capital and national markets
and art shows. They also must demonstrate the qualities of an entrepreneur
and be ready to function in a small business.
In addition to the Community Spirit Awards, the Cultural Capital Program
enables grantees in the other programs a chance to pursue opportunities for
sharing their success, art and knowledge.
For more information on First Peoples Fund, visit www.firstpeoplesfund.org.