Quilters stitching together new business on Pine Ridge Reservation

Published: Mar. 13, 2018 at 3:20 PM CDT
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A new business is coming to life on the Pine Ridge reservation and it's springing -- literally and figuratively -- from the fabric of Lakota life and culture.

It's the Owinza Quilting Cooperative just outside Kyle and it's a beehive of activity.

"We have a really good crew here," said Business Manager Wantawa Red Bear.

The quilters are busy preparing star quilts for their grand opening next month.

"We have some really amazing quilters," said Red Bear. "Ones who are very seasoned and have been doing this for a long time. They put their heart and soul into it. Their energy, every day, goes right into their quilts."

The cooperative is entirely women and member owned.

"It's a bunch of uncis and in Lakota unci means grandma, and all these uncis come together and they're making star quilts," said Cora White Horse who sits on the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. As a member of the council's Economic and Business Development Committee she has a special interest in the new venture.

"One of my personal goals is to ensure that there's more small businesses on the reservation and when I read about the quilter cooperative I had to jump right on that and help them," she said.

With startup capital from the LIFT Economy and Thunder Valley Development Corp., the uncis are looking to build a business with deep roots in their Lakota culture that used to use buffalo hides to mark all manor of important moments.

"We no longer have access to the buffaloes," said Red Bear. "We replaced it with the star quilt. Now the star quilt holds significance with honorings and memorials and birthdays, celebrations all across the board. It is just a good gifting piece for indigenous people."

The quilters aim to sell their quilts at their storefront outside Kyle and offer them online as well. They also aim to celebrate traditions.

"My children quilt. My grandchildren quilt, too," said qhuilting coop member Loveletta Iron Horse. "I'm also a seamstress. I teach them other sewing skills so that way they can carry on our traditions because my grandma knew how to make quilts and so did my mom."

The quilting cooperative grand opening is scheduled for April 6 at 1 p.m. at its storefront just west of Kyle.