Dances with Words goes online

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A growing initiative organized by First Peoples Fund is allowing Lakota youth to embrace and express their creativity through words. Though the pandemic forced First Peoples Fund to adjust their curriculum, young artists taking part in the program have embraced the changes and are excelling.

Dances with Words is a youth poetry program that began in 2010 when two young South Dakotans traveled to see the youth poetry slam festival Brave New Voices in Los Angeles. Autumn White Eyes, Youth Development Consultant for First Peoples Fund was one of the two youths that went to Brave New Voices. “Seeing other young artists in Brave New Voices was an important inspiration for Dances with Words,” White Eyes says.

Dances with Words was established in 2013 as a program that included different components including writing workshops, the Lakota Nation Invitational poetry slam, as well as a team that went to Brave New Voices, according to White Eyes. Since then the program has evolved. They continue to do workshops and poetry slams, but they also now host open mics and quarterly “Tiyospaye” meetings where they build community with the young people.

Participants in the current cohort of Dances with Words began their creative workshops in October , and White Eyes says the program will continue through June of 2021. Depending on what’s going on with COVID, First Peoples Fund will work with the students next spring to determine the best way to celebrate the students and culminate the program.

Dances with Words has expanded its reach over the years beyond Pine Ridge. It’s not only happening in the Rapid City area, but classes of 10 students are being hosted by the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, Nishto Incorporated in Sisseton and Indigenous Peoples Taskforce in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Poet mentors at each location use the curriculum created by First Peoples Fund to support students through their creative process in order to express themselves and connect to their communities.

“Our curriculum focuses on three main topics,” says White Eyes. “Knowing our history and ourselves, honoring our ancestors and relations, and sharing our stories. We use these topics in our curriculum to help young people develop their identity as young Lakota and to get to a point where they want to share their stories out loud. That really is a transformational process for a young person to be able to share their writing out loud.”

To learn more about First Peoples Fund and Dances with Words, click HERE.

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