Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Turnaround arts trip

Helixo Eagle, front left, and Zaniyan Iron Eyes, far right, perform a rap duet with other students from Standing Rock Middle and Elementary School while rehearsing the original song, "Somebody," at the Fort Yates school on Wednesday. The group of 11 students will perform this weekend in Washington as part of a talent show organized by the Turnaround Arts Initiative program. Standing in the back row are Sara Bradley, Alice Brownotter, Kanasa DuBray, Ellyce Bradley, George Bradley, Terry Brownotter, Wakiyan Shakespeare, Graysen Iron Shield and Gillian Lunde.


BISMARCK, N.D. — A group of Standing Rock students will travel to Washington, D.C., on Sunday to perform in a national talent show.

For most of the students, this will be the first time flying in a plane, and for some, their first time traveling far from home.

A group of 11 students in grades 4-8 will be performing in the Turnaround Arts Talent Show at The Kennedy Center.

On Wednesday, the students were nervous and excited as they rehearsed their song in the band room at Standing Rock Middle School. The song they will perform is about how growing up on a reservation has helped shape them.

"Getting recognized as a reservation school doing, like, big things is pretty cool," said Alice Brownotter, 14, who will be performing a traditional dance in the show.

Standing Rock Elementary School and Standing Rock Middle School are part of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' national Turnaround Arts program, which incorporates the arts into K-12 curriculum.

Through the program, schools are matched with an artist-mentor, who works with the schools to teach students about the arts. 

Mic Jordan, a hip hop artist and enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Tribe, has been working with students at Standing Rock middle and elementary schools.

Jordan and Taboo, a Mexican-American and Native American hip hop artist and member of the group, the Black Eyed Peas, helped write the song, called "Somebody," the Standing Rock students will perform. 

"Even if you're a kid from the reservation, you can be somebody; you just have to believe in yourself and that's what the song is about — not backing down and believing in yourself," said Jordan, who lives in the Fargo-Moorhead area and travels to various Indian reservations to work with children.

In January, the Standing Rock schools held tryouts for students interested in being part of the group that goes to Washington, D.C. More than 30 students auditioned.

For about three weeks, they've been practicing their song in preparation to practice with other Turnaround Arts schools.

"I was happy," Zaniyan Iron Eyes, 11, said, of getting picked after the audition. He is one of two rappers who will perform with the students.

The process for getting ready for the talent show has been grueling for some of the students, but, overall, Jordan said the students are ready.

"They have so much ambition," he said. "It didn't really take them long to learn the song."

Graysen Iron Shield, 12, said this will be his first opportunity to do something outside of North Dakota. When he told his parents he aced the audition, they couldn't believe that he could sing, he said.

Helixo Eagle, 13, who has never been on a plane, said his family has been helping him prepare for the trip, finding out what he can take. Eagle also will be rapping in the show and said he enjoys this style of music, because he can send a positive message.

Lisa Weippert, an English language arts teacher at the middle school and sixth-grade band teacher, said she believes music is beneficial to students. About three years ago, she started a choir at the middle school. Weippert also has been working with the students to prepare them for the talent show and will be traveling with them this weekend.

"I think it's so wonderful to have their talent shown nationwide. They truly do deserve this," she said.

Most of the students haven't performed in an event to this scale, except for school concerts and powwows. Brownotter is an exception: She performed at the Oscars last weekend with artists Andra Day and Common for their song, "Stand Up for Something."

"It showed that I could stand up for Native people and be a representative," she said. 

Brownotter, an advocate for youth, said she believes more young people should use their voices to share their thoughts and perspectives. She also was part of a group of Standing Rock youth who ran to Washington, D.C., in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.

"(Youth are) going to be the next role models," she said, adding that she's excited for Sunday's performance to showcase her culture and traditions.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or