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Mary Annette Pember
ICT

In addition to its people, the little town of Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation is also home to a large, diverse population of dogs. On this particular May day, it seems most of them have decided to chase my rental car, biting at the tires as I slowly make my way into the steep driveway of Davida Little Spotted Horse’s home.

They maintain their grips while backing up in an ungainly dog dance, letting me know they’re not giving up easily.

Coming to a stop near the door, I honk my horn as instructed.

Little Spotted Horse leans out to holler at the rez dogs. “Oh, be quiet; it’s okay!”

Immediately they change their demeanor, wagging their tails and smiling at me foolishly as though in apology for their earlier onslaught.

I scurry into the house before the dogs change their minds.

“Please don’t mind the mess,” says Little Spotted Horse as she invites me into her busy world.

Five-gallon size drink dispensers, packages of disposable cups and bags of lemons are spread across the floor.

A mother of five, grandmother of three, foster mother for a baby and a toddler as well as a heavy metal musician and songwriter, Little Spotted Horse is getting supplies ready for a family lemonade stand. The family specializes in huge glasses of flavored lemonade that are popular in the community. When ready, she puts the word out on Facebook and gets a steady stream of customers, enough to help fund family road trips.

In the corner, away from the baby carrier and toys, I see an electric guitar propped against the wall next to a speaker.

Although her family and community take the center stage of her busy life, her music is never far away.

Dressed in her signature black leather motorcycle jacket and black boots, Little Spotted Horse, 49, sits on the couch as she feeds baby Skylar her bottle. All chubby legs and cheeks, Skylar gazes up at her contentedly.

Little Spotted Horse describes her remarkable life and musical journey.

As a youngster growing up in Denver, she joined a little choir created by her second-grade teacher who immediately noticed Little Spotted Horse’s voice. “Even then I had a really wide vocal range,” she said.

The teacher began training her in classical music. She continued classical training into high school but soon discovered heavy metal music. Little Spotted Horse fell in love with the work of Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth and others, captivated by the complex, emotional story lines of their songs.

“Their songs described their personal journeys; that really appealed to me,” she said.

Little Spotted Horse and her family moved back to the Pine Ridge Reservation in her teens.

Most of the heavy metal musicians on the reservation at that time were men; they didn’t take her seriously, according to Little Spotted Horse.

Stubbornly, however, she continued writing and singing on her own; soon she began receiving requests to perform at different venues in the region.

Little Spotted Horse has worked with Spoken Word artist Thana Redhawk, The Peace Poets, Rapper Indigenize and many others.

Early in her career, producers asked if she’d consider wearing some fringe or feathers when she performed or include some drums, flute, bells or Lakota words in her music.

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She responded, “Ah, no.”

Unapologetically, she defies categorization as a Native American musician. “I stick to my guns; I make my music the way I feel it,” she said.

In 2019, she traveled to Brooklyn, New York to record with Rufus Cappadocia, a well known cellist. However, just as she began to gain wider recognition, the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold for her and many other musicians.

Unfortunately, she and several members of her family caught Covid. Even though it’s been more than a year since the illness, she finds that her voice has changed.

“I’ve lost some of my range; my lung capacity has diminished,” she said.

Little Spotted Horse, however, isn’t giving up. She is working hard using voice exercises to regain her capacity and strength.

Plus her work and dedication as a takola is ongoing providing the overarching motivation for her music, parenting and life. In the Lakota tradition, takolas are community warrior societies. More than warriors, however, takolas function as caretakers who help serve the community according to Little Spotted Horse.

For instance, caring for the two foster children in her home is a part of her takola duty.

“We will adopt these children if that’s needed but I really believe that their mother, who is very young, may just need some time to get herself together,” Little Spotted Horse said.

Her own mother lost Little Spotted Horse and her siblings over to foster care for six years.

“My mom went to treatment, took parenting classes, got her college degree and a job during those six years. She never stopped working and fighting to get us back and finally she did,” Little Spotted Horse said.

“I always tell people, if my mom could fight for us for six years, they can too,” she said.

“People give up too easily on parents,” she added.

As her singing voice gains strength, Little Spotted Horse is beginning to perform again.

She finds solace in the cathartic nature of heavy metal.

Fans respond to the storylines of her songs about dealing with issues such as domestic violence.

For instance, frustrated by a friend who wouldn’t leave an abusive relationship, she asked the woman to join her in writing a song about the situation.

The result was “U Trust Who.”

According to Little Spotted Horse, the experience helped the woman leave the relationship. “Sometimes it’s easier to put your emotions into music, the message has a chance to sink into you,” she said.

Little Spotted Horse sees her music is a means to help and inspire youth and women on the reservation.

“Kids need to see a variety of musicians here on the rez; I love playing for the young people so they can see a Native woman doing something unexpected,” she said.

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