Lakota hoop dance and flute
Wakpala, South Dakota
Kevin Locke, a member of the Hunkpapa Band of the Lakota Sioux, is known worldwide as a master hoop dancer, a preeminent player of the Northern Plains courting flute and a traditional storyteller, as well as a cultural ambassador and educator. Trained from childhood in all forms of Lakota musical, oral, and dance traditions, his Lakota name, Tokeya Inajin, meaning “The First to Arise,” is indicative of his pioneering role in preserving and reviving seriously endangered traditions of Northern Plains Indian culture.
During the 1970s and 1980s, a number of young American Indian musicians were determined to recapture traditional art forms before they were lost entirely. Comanche painter and musician Joyce Doc Tate Nevaquaya, Kiowa/Comanche Tom Mauchahty Ware, and other pioneers of this movement began urgent research into the courting flute. Especially prominent in this movement—in part because of the exceptional development and extensive repertoire of the Lakota instrument itself, and in part because of his personal longstanding commitment to traditional Plains Indian art and philosophy—was Kevin Locke. “Lakota/Dakota courting songs were once an essential expression of our intricate social customs,” he explains. “The social customs which gave rise to this expression are no longer in force. However, the tradition is a distinct treasure of South Dakota, and the values which gave rise to the use of the flute are those which our current society would do well to heed.”
Kevin Locke lived as a young man on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota with an elderly uncle who spoke only Lakota; from him he learned both the language and the traditions of his culture. He learned numerous Sioux courting songs and flute melodies, as well as how to make flutes, from those who could still remember them, including Noah Has Horns, Ben Black Bear, and Richard Foolbull.
In addition to the courting flute, Kevin is a master of the Plains hoop dance, another ancient and honorable Sioux tradition. The dance embodies the Plains Indian worldview, as the hoops, totaling 28 in number, intersect and grow into ever more complex shapes, always and forever returning to the beginning. Known for bridging the gap between Indian and non-Indian cultures, Kevin brings his audience into the circle of the Lakota Sioux vision. “I base my repertoire on the old songs,” Kevin explains. “I try to show younger people what was there, and maybe some of the younger people will pick up from there…. There’s a point at which you can’t express yourself with pure words, and that’s where the music comes in.”
For nearly thirty-five years, Kevin Locke has performed and lectured in schools all across the United States, and has toured in over 80 countries. Many of his tours have been sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. He has recorded over a dozen albums of songs, flute music and traditional stories. His performance at the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2004 had a standing-room-only crowd of over 4,000 people. In 1990, Kevin Locke received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest honor for traditional arts.
In Richmond, he will be accompanied by fellow Lakota artist Doug Good Feather (Denver, Colorado), an award-winning singer, drummer, and dancer, cultural ambassador, and community leader who grew up on South Dakota’s Standing Rock Reservation, as well as Wayne Silas, Jr., an acclaimed Oneida singer and champion dancer and drummer who currently resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Both frequently perform with Kevin.