Each of the last three years, I have taught photography to youth between the ages of 8 and 13 at the Boys & Girls Club on South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux Reservation. The reservation is home to over 30,000 members of the Sicangu Oyate or the Upper Brule Sioux Tribe, a branch of the Lakota people. The Boys & Girls Club offers after-school and summer tutoring, mentoring, and sports and arts programming to help reservation youth develop into healthy adults.
In 2018, Media Art Xploration (MAX) invited Club youth to exhibit artwork at MAX's 2019 astronomy festival in San Francisco and to travel to San Francisco to see their work on display. Lakota celestial theology, or Star Knowledge, plays an important role in traditional Lakota cultural identity. The ancient Lakota believed that the movement of the sun, moon and stars across the skies influenced life on earth, and that life on earth influenced the movement of celestial bodies.
In the summer and fall of 2018, co-teacher Canadian photographer Josee Schryer and I worked with Club youth to create photographic imagery for the festival. The kids interviewed and photographed Lakota Star Knowledge experts, visited the neighboring Badlands National Park during its annual Astronomy Festival, and photographed themselves, their community and the surrounding landscape, often using mirrors, color filters and other props. Josee and I then combined the children's photographs into groups of four to create 12 large murals exploring the relationship between the photographers, the natural world and the sun and stars. These murals were subsequently displayed at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences.
According to Club executive director, Glen Marshall, the participation of Club youth in the project and their subsequent trip to San Francisco were adventures of a life time.