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It’s Personal in South Dakota

Through my mother, I am descended from the Mi’kmaq (pronounced mee-gum-mach) tribe of first peoples in Nova Scotia. Because I live in a state where the Native population is less than 2%, there aren’t many opportunities to connect with my heritage, so my favorite part of visiting South Dakota was being immersed in Native culture.

It meant a lot to me to see my culture honored and to see that the places I visited strove to share an accurate view of history that included the perspectives of local tribes as well as the settlers and miners who came to the area.

I was especially excited to visit Prairie Trading Company and Galleries in Rapid City, where I made sure to stock up on hard-to-find sweetgrass. The downstairs store sells jewelry and art from local artisans and items like Pendleton blankets, as well as a large assortment of beads in every color and type and other items used to create regalia. The upstairs gallery features amazing works in a variety of media like paper and glass, and paintings from Native artists.

At the Journey Museum, I also learned how to make quillwork jewelry from Kayla, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. It’s amazing to me that my tribe is located in the Canadian Maritimes, yet halfway across the continent in a different country, there are so many similarities. Each tribe has its own identity, but modern Native culture embraces these independent identities along with the shared experiences that have come out of the changes in American Indian policy over the years.

The differences between Sioux and Mi’kmaq didn’t matter to me. We share a larger identity and an experience, so learning and participating in South Dakota’s Native culture was just one more way to take part in what makes me who I am.