February 24, 2023

Friends He Sapa featured on South Dakota News Watch

New Native American mentoring program in South Dakota builds lifetime bonds

When Coleman Eagle Elk first met a boy he expects to mentor from youth to adulthood, he used an ancient indigenous instrument to find common ground through song.

Eagle Elk met the 5-year-old boy and his mother at their home, then took the child to the Rapid City offices of the Friends of the Children. The new non-profit organization in western South Dakota pairs professional adult mentors with Native American children who have suffered trauma or abuse in their families.

Once at the office, Eagle Elk sat with the boy and played a ceremonial Native American bass drum while singing songs and building a bridge of trust, support and friendship that could last a lifetime.

“I set the big drum up and I told him that I’m your relative, your ‘Leksi,’” recalled Eagle Elk, 31. “I told him that the drum is not just a piece of wood with rawhide on it, but that there’s a spirit in there, so we’ll be able to be open and honest with each other.”

Eagle Elk, who has several years of experience counseling at-risk children, said he felt an immediate connection with the boy and believes the bond was mutual. And it all began with the two-person drum circle during their inaugural meeting.

“Being able to touch that cultural hunger that we as Native people have since birth, I saw his spirit light up,” Eagle Elk said. “I heard his little voice beneath the loud drum. And while it was quiet, we were able to make that connection that some Native youth in Rapid City don’t have access to.”