Traditional and Cultural Artist
2020 USA Fellow
This award was generously supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Kevin Locke (Lakota name: Tȟokéya Inážiŋ, meaning “The First to Arise”) is Lakota (Hunkpapa band) and Anishinaabe. Locke is a preeminent player of the Native American flute, a traditional storyteller, cultural ambassador, recording artist, fluent Lakota language and sign language speaker, and educator. He is most known for his hoop dance, The Hoop of Life. Born in 1954 in Southern California, at the age of five, Locke moved north with his family, and later settled in South Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1966.
It was from his mother Patricia Locke, his uncle Abraham End-of-Horn, mentor Joe Rock Boy, and many other elders and relatives that he received training in the values, traditions, and language of his native Sioux culture. He is frequently cited as an ambassador of Native American culture to the United States and the world.
He attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico for high school and earned a master’s degree in Educational Administration from the University of South Dakota. He taught himself to speak Lakota, his ancestral language, as a young adult. He learned the hoop dance, which had nearly died out, from Arlo Good Bear, a Mandan Hidatsa Indian from North Dakota.
Since 1978, he has traveled to more than ninety countries to perform and continues to perform abroad, most recently at the Malaysia Rainforest Festival (July 2018), 9th International Sefika Kutluer Festival: East Meets West in Ankara, Turkey (December 2018), and Arte Dule Indigenous Festival in Panama City, Panama (February 2019). He has served as cultural ambassador for the United States Information Service since 1980, was a delegate to the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, and was a featured performer and speaker at the 1996 United Nations Habitat II Conference in Turkey. In 1990, he won a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award granted to such traditional artists. In 2009, he won the prestigious Bush Foundation Award. In 2018, he founded the Patricia Locke Foundation named after his late mother Patricia Ann Locke with the mission to provide educational opportunities for underserved children and youth.
He uses folk arts to emphasize universal themes that are integral to all peoples. Universality of human spirit, its inclination towards peace, balance, harmony, and a longing that all human beings have for the Divine Springtime are a few central themes that he displays in his hoop dance, which is essentially a prayer for the unification of all mankind. He shares this prayer with children and adults alike, ranging from fifty to 55,000 people at a time. Even though Locke has performed in many prestigious venues to innumerable dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela and Dalai Lama, his favorite audience continues to be children and youth. When recently asked about his mission in life he said, “All of the people have the same impulses, spirits, and goals. Through my music and dance, I want to create a positive awareness of oneness of humanity.”
Portrait photo by Adib Roy.