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, 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.
 
Now Akipa, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, is a recipient of the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. It is the National Heritage Fellowship, which 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, 59, 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, as well as in different venues during the summer as a way to supplement his income. He produced his first CD in 1993. Since then, he has earned a Grammy nomination and 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 (28)
  • joshs1-stu
    10/12/2016 - 01:06 p.m.

    thats cool how those flutes look compared to our floots

  • jennyc1-stu
    10/12/2016 - 09:03 p.m.

    I actually was surprised when this flute supposebly had a holiday.

  • jennyc1-stu
    10/12/2016 - 09:04 p.m.

    I was surprised that this flute was a tradition.

  • tiffanyh-ste
    10/13/2016 - 12:03 p.m.

    I've always liked Indian stiff more than ours. They have a way of creating something really useful and amazing out of the smallest things they find.

  • jahir-orv
    10/13/2016 - 01:05 p.m.

    Because wood is what Native Americans would have used a long time ago.

  • smartina-dav
    10/13/2016 - 08:12 p.m.


    In response to "Dakota flutist earns nation's highest folk honor," I agree that Akipa deserved to win the national highest folk of honor. One reason I agree is that unlike many companies, he puts a lot of time and effort into this and makes the flutes by hand. Another reason is that He is very passionate anout this and works very hard. It says in the article "He said sometimes he even travels from his northeastern South Dakota community of Sisseton to northern Minnesota in search of wood." This means he isn't just doing this just for the money but he really cares about his corrier. Even though some people might think that he didnt deserve the national highest folk of honor just for making flutes and playing them, I think that he deserved all of it because of his dedication and hard work.

  • samanthas-1-ste
    10/14/2016 - 01:03 p.m.

    Flutes were originally made out of wood so that is probably why he waned to make them like that. The sound might even be different. Plus, if you are making it by hand at times, there will be sentimental value.

  • luisa-kul
    10/18/2016 - 12:23 p.m.

    I think some of the Indian people they really have talent, and they can do a lot of things,but, they don't do them because maybe in the tribe that's not its purpose and its such a waste of talent. I also like his flute, it looks better than the normal flutes i have seen.

    • aleahs-kul
      10/18/2016 - 12:30 p.m.

      I think because they are Native Americans, they are sometimes overlooked by their talents. I agree how some of them have talent. Their tribe should support them with their talents in life. (32 words)

    • eduardov-kul
      10/21/2016 - 12:19 p.m.

      I agree with you because the native-American have a lots of talents but some of the people don’t know that and his flute dose look really cool.

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