By Jim Speirs, Executive Director, Arts South Dakota

The strength of South Dakota’s creative community comes from its diversity, weaving together threads from all cultures across our lands and celebrating through the arts our common connections. This is especially meaningful to consider as we celebrate Native American Day and the first people to call this place home.

This summer, Arts South Dakota partnered with CAIRNS, the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies, for En Route, a three-day traveling workshop led by Dr. Craig Howe and CAIRNS educators on Native Lands and Arts. The idea of being “en route” grows from the premise that peoples and places are interwoven in a complex relationship. The geographic focus of the workshop was a small portion of the traditional homelands of the Lakota people, including Mato Paha (Bear Butte), Cankpe Opi (Wounded Knee), Wasun Niya (Wind Cave) and Pe’Sla (Reynolds Prairie).

The intention of the workshop structure was to encourage critical thinking about the intersections of Lakota history, culture, land and art on the one hand, and non-Lakota perspectives of important places and events on the other. The goal was to reach a more nuanced awareness of broader historical and contemporary relationships through an experience of Lakota arts, land and culture. 

Artists, educators, arts administrators and learners—over 30 people in all—rode a bus and became a community of people sharing a moving experience in South Dakota’s most culturally significant places. We learned about Lakota arts and culture and how the past, present and future intersect across South Dakota. But mostly we were inspired by the spirit of unity—convinced that arts can be a stepping-stone to cultural understanding—and transformed by the power of this land’s heritage.  

We can do more—we can all do more—to encourage understanding across South Dakota. The arts are central to this conversation.