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, who doesn't track 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, a historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, 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, but that it has had a comeback over the past three decades.
 
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, saying 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 (5)
  • maggieh1-sto
    10/13/2016 - 11:40 a.m.

    He makes it from wood because then they are hand made and they have meaning behind them then.

  • sawyerg-sto
    10/13/2016 - 11:48 a.m.

    because he makes them all by hand

  • wlauren-dav
    10/20/2016 - 01:46 p.m.

    he makes his flutes from wood instead of metal because it has more meaning and craftsmanship to it.

  • sgrab-wim
    10/21/2016 - 12:38 p.m.

    Bryan makes his flutes from wood because he plays traditional folk music. If he made the flutes from brass, a sound would be produced that is not ideal for the genre of music he is playing. Bryan makes Dakota flutes, and the Native American instruments are traditionally made from wood, and Bryan wants to keep that tradition alive.

  • ialexis-dav
    10/27/2016 - 06:54 a.m.

    In response to "Dakota flutist earns nation's highest folk honor," I agree that we should still make wood flutes. One reason I agree is that it keeps history alive, because flutes back then, they were made from wood, and if the people of today are using laser technology and computers,the history is forgotten over time, even if we write a textbook on wooden flutes, who would read it? Another reason is that it helps people understand folk and traditional music. It says in the article "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". It also says, "He said the art of flute-making was kept alive by only a few people for several years, but that it has had a comeback over the past three decades" A third reason is that if the art of flute-making has been making a comeback, will more people start to make them and use them, or will they continue to use "modern day" flutes? . Even though "modern day" technology is pretty good, I think that we could go back to the time when flute-making was actually a hands on activity, instead of all the technology of today that we use.

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