NASAA Notes: September 2023

September 6, 2023

North Dakota: Partnering to Support Native Arts and Culture

As state arts agencies work to serve all constituents, many are considering the ways in which artistic and cultural partnerships can foster stronger relationships with underserved communities and address histories of inequality. For the North Dakota Council on the Arts, this means building stronger relationships with Native communities through collaborating with Indigenous artists and culture bearers to archive, repatriate, and share traditional songs and important cultural stories.

Ojibwe knowledge keeper Debbie Gourneau at Mineral Spring. Photo by Barbara Hauser, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts

With a collaboration spanning over 10 years, the North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA), 13 Native artists and the North Dakota State Historical Society have partnered to present On the Edge of the Wind: Native Storytellers & the Land, a new exhibit that highlights and shares the traditional stories of Native nations in the region. The stories speak to the spiritual significance of the land and regional Native cultural practices. Hosted at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck, the exhibit features 13 storytellers with backgrounds across the Assiniboine, Cree, Dakotah, Hidatsa, Hunkpapa Lakota, Lakota, Mandan, Métis and Ojibway peoples. The exhibit also includes photos of each storyteller and various landmarks (taken by NDCA folk and traditional arts program manager Troyd Geist and Swiss photographer Barbara Hauser), while multimedia displays offer guided listening sessions of nearly 80 videos of the storytellers and stories, cultural explanations and additional traditional arts.

Rainy Butte is considered special by multiple Native nations, with eagle traps at the top used to catch this sacred bird. Photo by Barbara Hauser, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts

Because of the cultural significance of these stories, NDCA has worked closely with the Native storytellers who are recognized by their communities as knowledge keepers and individuals who were given the right from elders from whom they learned to share the stories with others. As a testament to the deep intercultural work and trust that this project required, the opening of the exhibit at North Dakota’s Heritage Center & State Museum was accompanied by a traditional ceremony presented by the storytellers.

Densmore Repatriation Project video (17 minutes) courtesy Dakota Legacy, Densmore Repatriation Project

The North Dakota Council on the Arts also embarked on a partnership with the nonprofit Dakota Legacy and Native artists in which they supported the preservation of traditional Lakota and Dakota songs through the Densmore Repatriation Project. This project archives and shares songs that were recorded over 100 years ago by ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore. NDCA worked with contemporary Native singers, including descendants of the originally recorded singers, to re-record the songs and material from the project. Seventy songs and 30 videos have been recorded, and eight study guides provide more cultural context. All material from the project will remain the intellectual and cultural property of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. For more information, contact North Dakota Council on the Arts State Folklorist Troyd Geist.

In this Issue

From the President and CEO

State to State

Legislative Update

The Research Digest

Announcements and Resources

More Notes from NASAA




To receive information regarding updates to our newslettter. Please fill out the form below.