Turnaround Arts Pays Visit to Standing Rock Indian Reservation
by Darren Thompson, Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe
Turnaround Arts, a national arts organization based in Washington, D.C., recently paid a visit to the
Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The visit included appearances at Standing Rock Elementary School, Solen Middle School, Cannon Ball Elementary School, Standing Rock’s Lakota Immersion School, Sitting Bull College and an evening community concert at Prairie Knights Casino by well known, multi-platinum musician Dave Matthews, Emmy-award winning actress Alfre Woodard, Grammy-award winning DJ Iz, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Hip-Hop sensation Mic Jordon among many other artists respected and accomplished in their fields.
Turnaround Arts is a national organization led by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a White House advisory committee on cultural issues. Together with the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, local partners and private foundation, Turnaround Arts brings arts education programs and supplies to some of the lowest-performing elementary and middle schools in the country. The overall goal of the organization is to improve attendance, community engagement, student motivation and academic achievement.
“Cannon Ball Elementary, Solen Middle School, Standing Rock Elementary and Standing Rock Middle School are the first North Dakota Schools to have been chosen for the National Turnaround Arts Program,” said North Dakota Turnaround Arts Program Director Barb Sandstrom. “The community applied to participate in the program in December of 2015 and in May of 2016, these four schools were chosen by The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities through a rigorous and competitive application process.”
“It was beyond an honor to have Turnaround Arts visit our community,” said Sitting Bull College Visitor Center Coordinator Jen Martel. “The community was in amazement that such well-renowned artists paid our community a visit and offered a performance for not only our community to enjoy but the surrounding communities as well. They came in a time of great need and our community will never forget it.”
With the recent demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the artists also paid a visit to the Oceti Sakowin Camp where thousands of supporters representing hundreds of tribes and other communities throughout the world are camped to protect the Cannonball River against the building of an oil pipeline on the borders of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Those camped were able to meet award winning artists and hear the voice and talent of Grammy-winning musician Dave Matthews.
“It means so much to have a visit from Dave Mathews and the other renowned artists because it verifies that our message is being seen and heard,” said Floris White Bull member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “It is recognition that our children and community matter. Our children are enduring some heavy weight with what they are having to process emotionally, mentality, and spiritually in what is going on in our community.”
Turnaround Arts works across the country, with schools in 36 school districts and 15 states as well as the District of Columbia. All schools are identified as “priority-designated” – the lowest performing schools in their state as defined by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools receive an array of arts education services designed to increase their chances of success, engage their community and raise visibility of their achievements. The program intends to work closely with each school throughout the school year to help the school community plan and implement programming and ensure its impact and success.
“I think our visit to Standing Rock was well received,” shared Turnaround Arts Artist and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Mic Jordan. “We were greeted by students holding signs and big bright smiles – the biggest smiles I have ever seen and I’m excited to be working with this community for the next two years.”
“The comments I’ve heard from some of the artists were unlike any I’ve ever heard,” shared North Dakota Council on the Arts Director Rebecca Engelman. “The artists are well traveled and have been to many communities and schools and to hear how they were touched by Native American culture was communicated by many that it has been the best experience they have had.”
As a result of the tension of the Dakota Access Pipeline, local media has portrayed a harmful image of the Standing Rock community and its stance to protect its community, making the visit of Turnaround Arts no exception. Although the norm to rarely cover positive stories of American Indian people and their success not only in mainstream media, but local media among larger American Indian populations, the visit of the artists was well received by the people and gave a tremendous glimmer of hope.
“Since the protests started happening, Standing Rock has been on my mind,” expressed Jordan. “Although I would love to stay, the reality is that I have a family to take care of back home and it is my goal to continue to do the work that I know how – making an impact on Native youth.”
“It wasn't just a person or people coming for publicity but human beings comforting and recognizing us as human beings,” stated Floris White Bull. “This love and appreciation is felt for every person we have welcomed into our camp and community.”
Darren Thompson (Ojibwe/Tohono O’odham) is a Native American flute player and writer from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. He is one of Crazy Horse Memorial's main performers and the opening act of Brulé's summer concert series in the Black Hills. He contributes to Native Peoples Magazine, Native News Online and Powwows.com. For more information please visit www.darrenthompson.net