Kevin Locke a “Master Traditional Artist” (Photo Credit: IXTLAN Artists Group)

Kevin Locke: Elevating the Human Spirit Through Music and Dance

Tish Leizens
December 16, 2012

His talents are anything but ordinary. So, it is no coincidence that Kevin Locke, a Lakota dancer and indigenous flute player got national recognition as a “Master Traditional Artist” who has contributed to the shaping of artistic traditions and to preserving the cultural diversity of the United States.

(Photo Credit: IXTLAN Artists Group)

That was in 1990 when he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000, the release of his album, “The First Flute,” won him the Native American Music Award for best traditional recording.

He first burst into the national scene as a hoop dancer and for his performance involving 28 hoops in a complex and acrobatic dance.  His dance awed spectators as it created visual images of the seasons, of the moon and sun, flowers, butterflies and way of life.

In the span of his career—he has graced many pow wows, toured for over two decades and lectured in more than 80 countries worldwide—he has been identified by many as a pre-eminent player of the indigenous Northern Plains flute, an inspiring hoop dancer, a traditional storyteller, a cultural ambassador and educator.

Kevin Locke, Tokeya Inajin in Lakota or The First to Arise, was reared on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. He is Lakota and Anishinabe and trained in the values and traditions of his elders.

ICTMN caught up with Locke after his recent trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. The artist shares his inspirational story about the hoops and what keeps him busy these days.

Tell us about your calendar these days.

My # 1 agenda for December is to hang out with my wife, kids and grandkids. After that I have a number of projects—well under way is a project to document and portray the original music of the indigenous flute. As a youth and child I recall hearing the genre of vocal compositions instrumentalized on the flute commonly known as "courting songs".  This genre all but died out in the 20th century because it arose in the social context of pre-reservation life and only the oldest singers had these songs in their repertoire.  For nearly 40 years I have been collecting and presenting these songs.

Who else in involved in this project?

Although I try, I admit that I am not a singer. So I have enlisted my nephew, Doug Goodfeather to help present these songs in an interesting and compelling way in order to inspire the younger generation of singers to discover this unique compositional genre and start creating their own songs.

Let us in on your educational program.

Another current project is to develop a curriculum and start training teachers to bring the indigenous North American flute to life for children everywhere. The traditional tuning for the indigenous flute is quite different from most flutes one finds on the Internet. We are developing an affordable flute to put in the hands of kids so that they can learn the esthetics and enter the world of indigenous North American music.  We hope to start teacher training in February and continue this coming summer in conjunction with the Lakota Summer Institute at Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Reservation.

What is the significance of hoop dancing to you?

(Photo Credit: IXTLAN Artists Group)

The hoop or circle is the most pervasive and ubiquitous world archetype. For all people the shape represents peace, wholeness, harmony, beauty, sacredness, divinity, continuity, infinity, and wellbeing. The hoop or circle is God's mark on every aspect of creation even down to the smallest atom, proton and neutron.  In its essence the hoop dance is a choreographed prayer—a prayer that we may all be restored to our place in the hoop of life, in God’s creation.

What’s with the 28 hoops?

The hoop dance with 28 hoops is a prayer that the promised renewal of the collective human spirit will accelerate and that we will all find our place in one great hoop made up of many hoops.

Who inspired you to pick up hoops?

Arlo Good Bear, a Mandan Hidatsa Indian from North Dakota We were doing a couple of performances in New York City and we were rooming together and he said: ‘I will give you one lesson now and the rest later. After I give you these lessons, you are going to be on your own. And it is going to take you a long way.’ Then, he got out of his hoops and made some designs and the whole thing took about 15 minutes. And the next day he took off and I took off.

Then, what happened?

A few days later, Arlo’s mom called and said he had died in an accident. So I went to his funeral. After I returned home I had a very vivid dream—several vivid dreams—and I saw him dancing with the hoops a very beautiful, a very powerful dance, making all of these designs, so fluid and spontaneous.

And you woke up…

The message I got was that this is a way that you connect the past with the present, the present with the future, and the spiritual world with the material world. 

How does hoop dancing relate to the Lakota way of life?

In Lakota Oyáte tȟačháŋgleška/the hoop of the nation, refers to any and all socio-political groupings. The sequence of designs portrayed in the dance represents the return and renewal of life; the transition from the cold, dark, dormant, lifeless, colorless condition of winter into the vibrancy, the dynamism, the color, beauty and the explosion that is spring. The spring we observe in the contingent world is but a metaphor for the springtime that autumn can never overtake... the blossoming and efflorescence that occurs in the individual and collective heart of humankind. In the northern plains the seasons are condensed and concentrated.  

What is your mission in life?

All of the people have the same impulses, spirits, and goals. Through my music and dance, I want to create a positive awareness of oneness of humanity.

How would you describe your stage in life today?

I was recently asked: “ničhúwita he?  Líla pȟehíŋ aniȟeyuŋka s’ele.”  “Are you chilled?  There seems to be lots of frost on top of your head.”  This is a polite way to comment on my grey hair.  Outwardly, I may appear old but I think of myself as youthful.  I must be at the best stage of my life!  Best— because it’s here and now and bursting with possibilities!

(Photo Credit: IXTLAN Artists Group)


Submitted by Anonymous on

What a wonderful article. I enjoyed reading it very much. What Kevin Locke's doing is a very good thing!!! Hope he has many more years to spread this to generations to come!!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bless his spirit as he continues to touch the hearts of many. A true humanitarian.

Submitted by Anonymous on

my grandmother was a cherokee. love anything about indians. she was a pretty woman. i never knew her, but i saw a picture of her once. her name was ella stoll. she passed away when my mother was 4or 5.

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