Artist from Standing Rock Revives Cultural Traditions through Historical Research

Artist from Standing Rock Revives Cultural Traditions through Historical Research
Holly Young

Holly Young needs no grand introduction among American Indian artists. She’s a full-time artist from Standing Rock who’s work has been showcased at some astounding venues and locations throughout the United States. Although widely recognized as the creator of Holly’s Hoops, she makes much more than beaded earrings. She’s a moccasin maker, cradleboard maker, ledger artist, and—as of lately—a floral bead artist. She’s also a mother, daughter, sister, ally, and supporter of other artists, communities, causes and initiatives.

Holly’s art is impacting not only her community but her life as well.

Her inspiration to begin her work with art blossomed when she was expecting her first child Inyan He Paha Young, more than 10 years ago, when she was snooping around her grandmother’s belongings and found a pair of floral moccasins. Over the last several years her work has been widely recognized through her earrings but has since grown into other mediums. And although her earring creations are always in demand, her other art forms are growing in recognition.

“Holly's Hoops” creations

As any artist can attest to, being a full-time artist is a never-ending duty, with—sometimes it seems—more sacrifice than anything else. Holly’s passion is that, and more. She aims to preserve a heritage so that one day her descendants can look up to her work, regardless of how grandiose or simple. She aims to keep the history of her people alive through the stories how she found her inspiration that influences her work. She is well aware of the struggles her ancestors faced to continue their way of life and isn’t shy to discuss at length some of those struggles.

Her passion to continue to develop her work was continuously inspired by her family, her support, and her heritage. She didn’t realize, however, the amount of time and effort it would take to continue to push herself and challenge her craft, always evolving and improving. She has traveled as far as Alaska pursuing her craft and has also researched her craft in various museums to revive patterns and expressions that have been among her people prior to the reservation era.

Dakota floral beadwork created by Holly Young

After making the decision to pursue art full-time, she made the decision after a couple of years to begin competing for grants to support her desire to learn to make new materials. Like other artists, she is critical of her work and pushes herself to always improve, but when always producing orders, creating new material can be challenging. It was in the fall of 2015 when she was awarded the artist-in-residence opportunity from the Minnesota Historical Society. A highly competitive grant, she was one of two artists selected to research historical pieces and develop her art business to take her work to the next level.

Since the discovery of her grandmother’s moccasins, her curiosity with floral beadwork has been unending. Her residency with the Minnesota Historical Society provided her with the opportunity to study and create more than she thought she would ever be able to. So today, her catalog now includes a variety of floral work including beadwork and ledger art.

Dakota Floral Ledger Art created by Holly Young

Floral beadwork is often associated with tribes and peoples from the Woodlands areas of the Great Lakes and Northeast, but little people realize that in times past the Dakota people have incorporated floral patterns into their artwork for generations prior to the reservation era. But also, the Dakota people were woodlands people, making their homes deep into the forests of the Great Lakes.

“Among the Lakota and Dakota artwork, we mainly see geometric designs,” said Holly Young. “I feel a strong connection to honor the traditions of our ancestors by continuing this type of beadwork as well as teaching and sharing it with as many of our people as possible.”

Dakota Floral Ledger Art created by Holly Young

Her work has been featured in the New York Metropolitan Museum in New York City as well the Minnesota Historical Society’s museum in St. Paul, Minnesota. She teaches her craft, from the beginning and to season, on her process in a variety of formats. She’s recently started teaching workshops on how to bead in her home community at the Sitting Bull College in Ft. Yates, North Dakota and has traveled to the Prairie Island Dakota Reservation in Minnesota to share her craft with her Dakota relatives.

Pursuing her passion has created opportunities she could have never imagined and has challenged her personally to learn more about her craft and reintroduce it among her people. She voiced on her growing process that since she has pursued art full-time that she has learned to love her people differently and to appreciate her people’s journey on an even deeper level. She learned more about her people’s history, even her local community’s history and their lives and legacies they left for us to all be inspired by. She learned how her people lived, how different their world was compared to ours today and strives to instill this awareness in her daughter's upbringing.

“Today we live in a faster, louder, more accessible world and we aren’t taking as much notice to thinking of our environment or our history as our ancestors did,” stated Young. “The difference in our times is why it’s important for me to keep these stories of how we were empowered and thankful for everything in our lives in mind.”

“Despite how challenging the world our ancestors lived in, they managed to always be thankful,” said Young. “They appreciated the environment, the land, the plants, the medicines and the animals that sustained them for generations and it is reflected in everything they did.”

Assortment of Dentallium Earrings created by Holly Young

Her growing recognition and success have increased the demand for her work. Sometimes, it seems, Holly creates from the moment she wakes up until the moment she goes to sleep. And although demanding, she is mindful and thankful for people supporting her career.

“Making a living doing something I’m extremely passionate about has been more fulfilling than a desk job has ever been for me,” said Young. “You’ll never hear me complain because, through all of these long hours of creating, I am empowering myself through it by showing my daughter and family that pursuing your passion can provide a very beautiful life.”

Crediting her grandmother, she also credits her inspiration to her ancestors: “In all I do, I strive to honor to my ancestors and my people. We were, and are, a strong, beautiful and unique people. I am honored to continue on these traditions. I am so thankful for all of the support I have and I wake up every day excited and blessed to know I can continue on with my work.”

Beaded cell phone case featuring Dakota Floral pattern created by Holly Young

Already an impressive journey pursuing a timeless craft, her future already features several showcases throughout the State of Minnesota and she aims to continue to develop her business to make her work more accessible. She expresses she has interest in pursuing juried art shows as well as learning new art forms. She continuously looks to the internet to learn new methods and is inspired by many other artists and always admits she cannot believe she continues to complete projects. Following the path of many in her family and friends, she strives to honor her people with her abilities.

In addition to her own business endeavors, she is a member of the Creative Indigenous Collective, which is a collaboration of artists who support and encourage each other and includes artists such as John Pepion, Ben Pease, Robert Martinez, Louis, and Gina Still Smoking and Lauren Monroe. Her fans and supporters follow her on social media, where she shares a lot of her creations. The photos provided were provided by Holly and are only a small portion of her work.  You can follow and support her work on Instagram, Facebook, email her directly at [email protected] or find her somewhere along her journey.

About Darren Thompson

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 contributes to Native Peoples Magazine, Native News Online, Native Max Magazine and For more information please visit

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