Art exhibit shows traditional story of Native Americans

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A traveling exhibit that pairs Native American art with passages of a traditional story narrating the emergence of the Lakota people in the Black Hills of South Dakota is now on display in Sioux Falls.

The exhibit, titled “Lakota Emergence,” presents the traditional belief that the ancestors of the Lakota people emerged to this world through what is now known as Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota. It divides the story into 16 passages, pairing each chapter with a piece created by a Lakota artist specifically for this project.

“We do a lot of work trying to mitigate racism, and so, one idea was to do an exhibit not with that as its intention but with that as a possible outcome,” said Craig Howe, executive director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies. “The hope is that people are excited about this narrative. It shows a narrative that is linked to a particular place in our state, the Black Hills, and is a shared landscape. All of us know that landscape, Indians and non-Indians. The exhibit foregrounds that place.”

The Lakota are one of three divisions of Native Americans that the French referred to as the Sioux. The division involves seven tribal nations in the northern Great Plains.

The 1,251-word narrative at the center of the exhibit was gathered by a physician serving the Pine Ridge area and published almost a century ago by the American Museum of Natural History. The story includes tales of deception, love, shame, misery and risks.

Howe’s organization, which is based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, acknowledges that the narrative is one of dozens gathered by the physician James Walker not attributed specifically to the spiritual leaders who shared information with him. But, Howe said, a careful reading of the narrative correlates with other Lakota stories, suggesting that the narrative originated with the Lakotas and was not made up by Walker.

The traveling exhibit now on display at Avera Health’s Prairie Center in Sioux Falls consists of panels that show true-to-size photos of the original exhibit, which debuted in Rapid City last year. The organization created it because the panels require far less care than the original collection that includes paintings, wood carving work, a glass mosaic and mixed media pieces.

Howe said his organization’s goal is to take the traveling exhibit to tribal schools and other venues, such as Avera’s medical center, to teach children and adults this traditional story.