Musician Kevin Locke (Lakota/ Anishinaabe) and storyteller Mary Louise Defender (Dakotah/Hidatsa) have each been awarded The Bush Foundation’s $100,000 Enduring Vision Award. A total of three artists received the award this year, with funds to be distributed over the next three to five years.
The Enduring Vision Awards are given to established artists to be an example for present and future generations in their fields, according to a Bush Foundation press release.
It’s purely coincidental that two of the three final winners are Native, as there are no racial or gender quotas in the criteria, according to Kathy Graves, a spokesperson for the Bush Foundation. In 2008, one of the award winners was White Earth Ojibwe painter Frank Big Bear.
Recipients are chosen for their artistic excellence, influence on their communities, and their interest in “pursuing deeper investigations and/or new explorations to inform and enrich their work.” according to foundation information. “It’s very much a surprise,” said Defender, who is 78 years old. “I just kind of feel like it’s not really happening.” She said storytelling for her wasn’t something that was taught, but rather “it just kind of developed.” As a girl growing up on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, she listened to stories told by her grandparents, her mother’s aunt, and other elders. “They didn’t speak English,” she said. “But we’d be sitting around, and someone would start telling stories. I heard stories all the time.” It wasn’t long before she began to tell her own stories to her classmates and friends.
Defender said her award money will go toward gathering stories from her community. She tells stories of the way her people have been treated, the injustice that has happened to them as they were forced out of their homeland. She meets with the elders in her community to listen to them. “I haven’t gotten the money yet,” she said, “but yesterday I used credit to buy meals for 25 elderly.” Defender said she also talks to them about the present, living on the reservation. “It’s hell to be old on an Indian reservation,” she said.
Defender tells her people’s stories all around the country at colleges, conferences and festivals, and also has recorded the stories on CD. She hopes that her work can help her community by telling the world what has happened to her people. She also encourages other Native Americans, particularly the younger generation, to learn about their own culture.
Musician Kevin Locke plans to use the award money to focus on documenting his work. Locke plays the Northern Plains flute and is also a traditional storyteller and hoop dancer. “I’ve got all this repertoire of music and oral tradition,” Locke said. “But a lot of what I know is not recorded.” He plans to continue the work he’s already doing to record the traditional music (mainly from the 18th century), as well as creating original music using improvisation and collaboration with other musicians.
Locke said he never studied the flute formally. “By the time I started playing the flute, there were no flute players.” He said he learned by listening to vocal folk music and instrumentalizing it. “There were people that were very encouraging,” he said. “Older people were happy to share their songs, and I began to amass a repertoire.” Each fall, Locke typically travels the country giving performances both as a solo artist and with The Kevin Locke Native Dance Ensemble, incorporating up to 15 performers. Information about Locke’s tours can be found at: www.kevinlocke.com.
This is the second year the Enduring Vision award has been given out. It compliments two other Bush Foundation initiatives that support individual artists including the Bush Artist Fellowships and Dakota Creative Connections grants.