Dakota flutist earns nation's highest folk honor Bryan Akipa in Washington, DC, for the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowship events. (Tom Pich/National Endowment for the Arts)
Dakota flutist earns nation's highest folk honor
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There was a time when Bryan Akipa knew nothing of flutes. But that was long ago. It was before the budding artist stumbled across a wooden mallard-head flute in the studio of his mentor. It sparked a fascination that led to a career in both making and playing the distinctive Dakota flutes.
 
Akipa is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe. Now he is a recipient of the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. It is the National Heritage Fellowship. It is awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Akipa was recognized during a ceremony in Washington. He told The Associated Press that he had to read up about the award when he got the call notifying him he had earned it.
 
"On Facebook, my daughter put it on her page. And I think she got the most likes. I put it on mine, but I got a few likes," Akipa said. "Everyone congratulating me is really special. Especially since it's for the traditional flute."
 
Akipa is 59 years old. He carved his first flute in 1975 from red cedar. He used a pocketknife. It would lead to a career in music. After taking a break to serve in the Army and to finish college, Akipa became a teacher. He began playing the flute for his students. He would also play in different venues during the summer. It was a way to supplement his income. He produced his first CD in 1993. Since then, Akipa has earned a Grammy nomination. He has also won several Native American Music Awards.
 
Akipa stressed that every flute he sells is made entirely by hand. He said sometimes he even travels from his northeastern South Dakota community of Sisseton to northern Minnesota in search of wood.
 
"I've never mass-produced them," said Akipa. He hasn't tracked the number of flutes he has carved. "There are flute-makers that could make 2,000 flutes a year. They have laser technology (and) computers. They don't even touch the wood."
 
Russell Eagle Bear is an historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He said the flutes were traditionally used in courting and social gatherings. He said the art of flute-making was kept alive by only a few people for several years. It has had a comeback over the past three decades, he said.
 
Akipa has taught flute-making classes in an effort to keep the tradition alive. He said he plans to use the $25,000 that comes with the fellowship to boost his career. He has had to put it on pause to care for relatives. He wants to buy recording software and a new microphone to release a couple more albums.
 
South Dakota's U.S. Sen. John Thune broke the good news to Akipa. The senator said the artist's talent and dedication to his work, as well as the historical and cultural significance it represents, "gives South Dakotans, especially members of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, a lot for which we can be proud."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Bryan make his flutes from wood instead of metal, like most flutes?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (29)
  • robertoh1-san
    11/03/2016 - 11:57 a.m.

    He made his flute out of wood instead of metal because it is easy to make a flute out of wood instead of metal. Another reason is beacuse a flute made out wood sounds better that one made out of metal. The third reason is because metal gets rusty over time and a wood one does not. The forth reason is it takes money to make a metal flute and a wood one does not. The last reason is Because it is easer to play a wood flute than a metal one.

  • joshlins-san
    11/03/2016 - 11:59 a.m.

    Its interesting how only a few people made flutes in the past three decades, though it's nice that some one still has the love for playing and making flutes, but not by using a machine or technology but by hand. Its amazing to me that some one would use a pocket knife to carve a flute with so much detail, and not mentioning how long it would take them to do so. It would take skill to make flutes by hand and carve detailed art into it.

  • arturov1-san
    11/03/2016 - 11:59 a.m.

    He makes it from wood because its the tradition of his tribe.He wants to make real flutes not the ones who didn't get touched while making the flute.Brayan also builds it with his hands because he doesn't believe in things building for him.Also hands are a great way to make flutes because you can feel the texture.

  • johns3-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:00 p.m.

    Bryan makes wood flutes rather than metal flutes because he wants to keep the tradition of making flutes with wood like his ansestors did.He also thinks it is a better way to make flutes because metal flutes are often more common than wood flutes. I think it is neat how he is trying to use wood rather than metal. He also wants to keep his ansestor's tradition of making flutes.

  • isaach3-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:00 p.m.

    "I've never mass-produced," said Akipa. He hasn't tracked the number of flutes he has carved. There are flute-makers that could make 2,000 every year.

  • sarynea-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:00 p.m.

    He made wood to flutes. He wanted it to stay longer. He wanted to sell them to other places. His daughter posted something on Facebook and she go the most likes. He said he plans to use $25,000 that comes with the fellowship to boost his careers.

  • vanessar-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:01 p.m.

    He used wood to make it more traditional for his people and more. He thought that wood would be more wise and during summer the color and nature would complete the wood from the flute also just to keep the traditionan more wise he used up to $25,000. He said that flute making was kept by only a few people for some years. There were even some flute makers that could make up to 2,000 flutes a year. Akipa stressed that every flute he made and spelled was from hand. South Dakota's U.S. Sen. john even broke the good news to Akipa and that the artist's talent and much dedication to his work and his historical and much more.

  • marcob-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:01 p.m.

    He made his flute out of would because probably it works better than metal. Maybe he thinks that wood flutes make more noise or they feel smooth, cause metal is kind of cold I would like wood too if it's smooth. He didn't want to do metal because you can't make metal with your hands so he would rather make flutes out of wood because it is easier cause you can just carve it, plus hand made can work really good

  • davidf1-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:01 p.m.

    Bryan makes his the flute out of wood and not the metal because the metal flute wouldn't make good sounds and the wood make good noise and the metal would be hard to make to a flute and the wood be much easier to make with a knife to make a flute made out of wood and Bryan would rather use a flute made out of wood because Bryan what's to keep up the tradition.

  • miguele-san
    11/03/2016 - 12:02 p.m.

    He makes his flutes out of wood instead of metal because it can make music more peaceful and quiet. And it's more smooth that you can hold it more better than metal. He also likes making wood flutes instead of metal because he loves carving flutes. And he earned making flutes people love his flutes and he sells flutes. He makes flutes to make his career more better.

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