First Blog in Contemporary Native American Art Class


Dylan Iron Shirt, entitled “Mi Mni Wanca K’eyala”, 2013, © Dylan Iron Shirt 2013

At first, I was excited that my sister asked me to make a Chekpa for her soon to be born daughter. It is an honor and a blessing for me to be asked to create and construct a Chekpa for a newborn child. Among our people’s beliefs, that of the Lakota Sioux people who inhabit what is now-known as South Dakota, if a newborn has a Chekpa then it will insured the child to have a long-life with good health and happiness.

To our people, a Chekpa is perceived as a sacred amulet that contains the child’s umbilical cord and is traditionally stuffed with eagle plumage, buffalo hair, or cotton from the sacred Cottonwood tree. According to our people’s traditional practice of making a Chekpa, Lakota girls are made a turtle Chekpa, which expresses femininity and strength because the turtle is seen as being strong and endures a long life. Our people understood that after a turtle had been killed, its’ heart continues to beat long after it has died, thus exemplifying a symbol of strength and perseverance. It was perseverance that Lakota women seek for most when attempting to endure a nomadic lifestyle- in the extremely harsh conditions and environment that the Plains has to offer. For Lakota boys, traditional custom calls for either the creation of a lizard or a snake Chekpa. The lizard and snake people are iconic symbols that represent stealth, swiftness, and also strength. Strength, swiftness and stealth, are all desired skills and abilities that are needed when the boy grows up and becomes a warrior one day. Skills and abilities that may be the factors which will keep this future warrior alive in times of battle.

Thus, I have created and beaded a turtle Chekpa for my niece, to not only ensure that she lives a productive long-life, good health and happiness, but to also provide her with safety and to give her an everlasting ‘strength’, just like the turtle has. Within this art piece, I have  utilized size 13-cut glass Czechoslovakian beads with bright and flashy bead colors, while still maintaining traditional Lakota designs and style for identity purpose. This is my gift to her.


Below are some other examples of artwork that I have created. Again, I have taken the approach of creating these artworks by utilizing a more ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ approach of implementing beadwork designs, materials, and colors, which have been incorporated into creating artworks of stylized apparel. 


Dylan Iron Shirt, entitled “Even Sitting Bull would wear it…”, 2012, © Dylan Iron Shirt 2013


Dylan Iron Shirt, entitled “he gave me flowers”, 2012, © Dylan Iron Shirt 2013


Dylan Iron Shirt, untitled, 2011, © Dylan Iron Shirt 2013


Dylan Iron Shirt, untitled artworks, 2011, © Dylan Iron Shirt 2013