The Brave Heart Society is the revival of a traditional cultural society for women and works tirelessly at “calling home the spirit of the culture.”
Due to government intervention, the boarding school system, and the breakdown of families due to poverty, the Dakota people lost much of their traditional knowledge. In 1994, the Brave Heart Society was formed by a community of grandmothers on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota with the mission of bringing back traditional knowledge by “calling home the spirit of the culture”. The Brave Heart grandmothers believe that culture is medicine, and the success of their many projects show the true strength of their culture.
Isnati Awica Dowanpi – Coming of Age Ceremony for Young Teen Girls
Featured on National Public Radio’s Hidden World of Girls, one of the Brave Heart Society’s greatest accomplishments has been the rehabilitation of the once forbidden and nearly lost Isnati Awica Dowanpi, or Coming of Age Ceremony for girls. Prior to the 1978 American Indian Freedom of Religion Act, cultural practices such as the Isnati Coming of Age Ceremony for girls were forced underground if not completely extinguished. As one of the seven sacred rites of the Lakota, the purpose of Isnati is to teach young women to respect themselves, their roles and their bodies as developing women through the instruction of elder women. By piecing together knowledge from elders, the Brave Heart women revived the Isnati ceremony in a community camp setting in 1997.
ImageNagi Kicopi—“Calling Back the Spirit” Healing Retreat
Brave Heart’s annual Nagi Kicopi “Calling Back the Spirit” Healing Retreat, which aims to heal the traumas of abuse and addiction, has an astounding sobriety success rate of an 80%. Led by licensed counselor and Brave Heart founding grandmother, Faith Spotted Eagle, the retreat focuses on healing through the rediscovery of cultural identity. The individual growth achieved the Nagi Kicopi retreat is perpetuated by weekly Nagi Ksapa “Spirit Smart” work and life skills groups. These weekly meetings continue to foster the support system necessary for sobriety by teaching traditional crafts and offering the opportunity for fellowship. One project the group works on is making traditional regalia, through beading and sewing, to teach Dakota girls to take pride in their heritage. The Brave Heart Society recently completed a 50 year strategic plan to help the organization accomplish its goals in the coming years. The society is currently expanding its programs to include teenage Dakota men through work with preserving sacred tribal sites, horsemanship, and bow building.
Cante Waste Woju—“Good Heart” Garden
The Brave Heart Society’s 3-acre community garden gives the Yankton Reservation community a place to learn practical gardening skills, teamwork a nd responsibility. The garden, tended primarily by the youth, produces a wide variety of vegetables that are distributed to elders and families on the reservation.
The Brave Heart Society began its gardening project in 2003. Since then the Brave Heart Society has helped till and prepare many other family and community gardens across the Yankton Reservation, giving residents fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables throughout the summer months. In recent years the gardens have been such a success that many of the gardens have provided a surplus and with that the opportunity to store these crops for the long winter months. The Brave Heart Society is now hoping to build a traditional Earth Lodge to provide a space for to store the produce during the winter months.
Waterlily Storytelling Institute
“Our people, they were once known for being great orators. Then, our voices were taken. You must find your voice. These are our ways. This is our education. All we must do is walk gently and listen.” – Brook Spotted Eagle
The Brave Heart Society’s annual Waterlily Storytelling Institute gathers an audience of all ages to share in the rich cultural knowledge passed down through generations by the art of storytelling. This festival allows Native storytellers to tell traditional stories first hand to the Dakota people. Every year, the Storytelling Institute is held for four days, with gatherings at the Brave Heart Lodge and at local school assemblies. Over 1,000 participants heard stories through Waterlily Storytelling Institute.
Dakota Language Nest
Every Wednesday night the Brave Hearts meet with local youth to teach them the Dakota language in a classroom style setting at the Brave Heart Lodge. They refer to these weekly language lessons as a “language nest” because symbolically, a nest is built when a mother bird constructs it piece by piece in order to nurture young birds so that they may become strong. The Brave Hearts provide a strong foundation for their youth and teach them the language piece by piece so that they may become strong Dakotas.
Running Strong has worked with the Brave Heart Society since 1996, providing needed funds for their programs, thanks in part to the generous support of the SEVA Foundation, the Lotus 88 Foundation, and the Center for Sacred Studies.