SGU Connects Arts and Culture to GED Classroom

Jul 6, 2023 | Blog, Indigenous Adult Education, Native Arts, Our Programs

By Sherman Marshall, SGU Director of Adult Basic Education

Master Artist, Ivan Knife teaches Savanna Littlebird how to dye quills.

Master Artist, Ivan Knife teaches Savanna Littlebird how to dye quills.

Studying for a GED can seem like hard work for many students. But Sinte Gleska University’s (SGU) Adult Basic Education (ABE) department found when students have the opportunity to reconnect with community and their Native arts, students feel more motivated — and encouraged.

GED students at SGU had the unique opportunity to work alongside local Master Artist Ivan Knife to learn a traditional art form while completing standard high school equivalency (HSE) coursework in the university’s newly established HSE Native Arts Apprenticeship Program, supported by the College Fund’s HSE Community Building Grant in Native Arts.

McKayla working on a beaded lanyard during her apprenticeship with Ivan.

McKayla working on a beaded lanyard during her apprenticeship with Ivan.

HSE student apprentices received comprehensive training in traditional art forms, exploring various techniques and completing projects under the master artist’s guidance. The apprenticeship culminated in a community workshop, where each apprentice co-taught a selected project alongside Knife.

Beadwork apprentice McKayla Burnette co-taught a two-day beaded earring workshop and Savanna Littlebird, a quillwork apprentice, co-taught a workshop on creating quilled earrings. The workshops were attended by HSE students, SGU staff and faculty, and tribal community members.

In addition to the apprenticeship program, the ABE department collaborated with the SGU Lakota Studies department to organize a series of community art workshops. Participants had the opportunity to choose from a range of crafts and art forms, including quilled earrings, beaded fringed pouches, rawhide containers, ribbon skirts, drumsticks, and more.

Savanna Littlebird (left) and McKayla Burnette (right) receiving their certificate of completion with Master Artist, Ivan Knife (center) at the conclusion of their apprenticeships.

Savanna Littlebird (left) and McKayla Burnette (right) receiving their certificate of completion with Master Artist, Ivan Knife (center) at the conclusion of their apprenticeships.

Among the participants in the ribbon skirt workshop was Jo Waln, an HSE student. She decided to make a ribbon skirt with the hope of wearing it during GED graduation, which will be held during the SGU commencement ceremony in August. Waln brought her ribbon skirt in her backpack to her final testing appointment in June as a source of encouragement. After passing her last test, she proudly wore her ribbon skirt while receiving her GED diploma.

The funding from the American Indian College Fund, which allowed the ABE department to expand its programming for HSE students at SGU, also facilitated meaningful connections between HSE students, community members, and SGU faculty and staff. As a result of the Native Arts grant, the department successfully organized 12 workshops, reaching 69 participants.

Jo Walk working on her ribbon skirt during a workshop. Also pictured, Billie Artichoker.

Jo Waln working on her ribbon skirt during a workshop. Also pictured, Billie Artichoker.

Jo Waln wearing her ribbon skirt while receiving her GED diploma at the Adult Basic Education office.
Jo Waln wearing her ribbon skirt while receiving her GED diploma at the Adult Basic Education office.

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