Upper Sioux Community

Granite Fall, MN

Star Quilting Classes

The Upper Sioux Community identified the revitalization of two art forms, brain tanning and star quilting, as the subject of our Phase 1 project. Our plan was to offer classes, taught by Upper Sioux Community Elders, over the winter months in a traditional manner with family and community members in a hands-on setting. Classes such as these provide learning opportunities about Dakota life ways and values.

Star quilts are an important part of gift-giving and honoring in Dakota culture. We held two separate star quilt-making sessions. A total of 15 Dakota community members attended. Some participants had limited prior knowledge of sewing or the operation of a sewing machine.  Four participants excelled in sewing and are now regularly making star quilts.

The increased connection between community members and the community resulted in participants collectively advocating for a permanent quilting space. The Phase 1 grant served as a vehicle to bring together a group of individuals who advocated for Dakota arts to be valued again and deliberately nurtured. The Phase 1 project served as a foundation for the Healing through Dakota Arts project, resulting in a $32,000 grant from the First Nations Development Institute. We now have a part-time arts coordinator (one of the young mothers who participated in the star quilting classes) who is establishing and furnishing a permanent collective arts space. This project is nurturing star quilt making, bead work, and quill work. The camaraderie of the quilters reflects the traditional Dakota women’s quilting groups from long ago. Instead of the community relying on one Elder to meet the community’s needs for star quilts (e.g., new babies, graduations, funerals), we now have four members meeting those needs. The values of wacantognaka (generosity), wookiya (helpfulness), and wihaha (positivity) were exemplified and lifted up through this traditional lifeway.

Unfortunately, the timing of the traditional brain tanning did not work out for the Elder who will teach the class. However, we anticipate a future project with this Elder so that others in the community can learn this ancient tradition of preparing leather. Therefore, we had two star quilt making classes instead of one. There was so much demand for the course that we had to conduct a lottery for both classes.

Our Phase 1 project provided opportunities for new relationships to form between individual tribal members and intergenerationally. Through this project, we discovered a number of artists in the community that people are unaware of. Through the fellowship that quilt making provided, people began to share stories and artistic talents. Community members donated their time to assist the Elder in residence in teaching and assisting participants in their sewing projects.

The Dakota arts now have a permanent space in the Upper Sioux Community, and we expect it to grow and flourish. Pidamayayapi (with gratitude)!

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