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Local native artists show off work

Local native artists show off work

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Main Street Square had a festive look Saturday afternoon.

The Native POP: People of the Plains arts and culture festival was in the square for the fourth straight year. The market shows off art from Native American tribes of the Great Plains.

This year, there wasn't just paintings, but traditional Great Plains tribes dancing, music, demonstrations and film.

The event has grown since it began four years ago, when it was a collection of 10 artists looking to showcase their culture.

Now the artists alone number more than 50, with additional filmmakers and performers making their way to Rapid City.

Native POP chairman of the organizing committee, Peter Strong, said the group probably wouldn't be able to add any more artists, a long way from where the event started. During the second year, the amount of artists jumped from 10 to 30, growing to 40 in its third year.

Artists range from the plains of Canada to northern Texas and the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains.

"We looked at it culturally and before western culture came in, generosity was important, and being a good neighbor was as well," Strong said. "Although we give preference to tribes from the Great Plains, we won't say no to other tribes who want to come in."

One artist came from Alaska, but some made other long trips to Rapid City.

Hillary Kempenich is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of the Chippewas, based in North Dakota. She primarily focuses on painting, including painting strong Native American women who she said most people don't know about.

It isn't just painting that she is passionate about. She also creates dresses and makes films.

This is Kempenich's second year at Native POP, and she said she looks forward to hopefully coming back in the future.

"I love how this event can bring people together," she said. "This is such an artistic community. This is a beautiful place, and the artists are really talented."

Some of those talented artists also aim to teach people about their culture.

Kevin Decora is from Rosebud and identifies as Lakota and Ho-Chunk. Decora makes lacrosse sticks, including some sticks that fans of the modern game might not have seen.

The original game of lacrosse was created by the Haudenosaunee tribe of upstate New York and Southern Ontario. When the game moved beyond the Great Lakes, the Lakota picked it up.

"The Lakota game was played with one hand with a smaller stick," Decora said. "The games and brutality are the same. Some tribes played a game of lacrosse instead of going to war to settle disputes."

Whether it's paintings or making lacrosse sticks, the artists said the event is about more than art; it's about bringing a community together.

Bryan Parker is from the White Mountain Apache tribe. His wife is Lakota, and he focuses on Lakota art.

He said events like the festival help unite communities.

"It's good for the community. I think art and the celebration of art brings people together no matter what their race," he said. "At times Rapid City has its racial divide and tension, but an event like this brings people together." 

— This article has been updated to correct the spelling of artist Peter Strong's name.

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