When LaRayne looked over the stock of children’s powwow regalia at St. Joseph’s Indian School, she noticed a limited amount of female Traditional and Jingle dresses.
LaRayne, St. Joseph’s Native American Studies teacher, said popularity among the different powwow dances changes year to year. Some years, more girls want to dance Fancy, while other years Jingle or Traditional take the lead. Recently, that has been the case. While St. Joseph’s has a seamstress, Bonnie, to carefully create new dress designs to replace worn out regalia, the demand for Jingle and Traditional dresses has been outpacing her sewing machine.
“I came in here and knew we were probably going to be a little short on Traditional and Jingle dresses,” said LaRayne, motioning her arms among the display of dresses in the regalia room.
But, it wasn’t long after that her phone rang, and on the other end was Bev Running Bear. Bev, a St. Joseph’s Parent Advisory Council member, had some dresses to donate to the school — Jingle and Traditional dresses.
“It was like, ‘Yes! Prayers answered’,” said LaRayne.
As LaRayne unpacked the dresses — one a dark navy blue with the traditional Medicine Wheel colors, and others showcasing mauve, blue and pink florals — she noticed a significant element that made the dresses special …
The name printed on a dress tag read “Contemporary Lakota Fashions by Geraldine Sherman.”
“My first thought was, ‘Oh my goodness’,” said LaRayne. “It was a really nice surprise!”
Geraldine Sherman (Cante Waste Win) was born Sept. 8, 1922, at home near Kyle, S.D., to William and Victoria (Hunter) Sherman. She grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation during the Great Depression. She attended high school and graduated as valedictorian from Oglala Community School in Pine Ridge in 1940. Although she taught weaving in Kyle soon after graduation, it was not until a few decades later when she would go into fashion design.
According to her 2012 obituary, Geraldine was encouraged to show her sewing in a 1966 church art show. Although she did not feel she had anything special, she dug out some of her woven pieces for the show. The clothes were clearly special to others, because she won First place. Better prepared the following year, she again took First place for her skillful designs.
Contemporary Lakota Fashions by Geraldine Sherman was established. Before she passed away in 2012 at the age of 90, she was among the pioneers in Lakota fashion design, and her work earned her awards and accolades across the country.
The Contemporary Lakota Fashions dresses recently donated to St. Joseph’s Indian School came from Rapid City, S.D. Geraldine had been a member of the He Sapa Kateri Circle. Over the years, she and other group members had sewn dresses for the youth group.
Bev Running Bear, who has had children attend St. Joseph’s, was also a part of the He Sapa Kateri Circle for years. Although very active in its early years, the group’s activities began to fade over time. Consequently, the dresses were tucked away at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church, unworn for many years.
Running Bear said several years after the group dissolved, she got an unexpected phone call.
“I got a call from a deacon at the church asking about the regalia — saying if we needed or still wanted them, we needed to come get them, as the church was going through things in storage,” said Running Bear.
“I’ve been waiting to give the dresses to LaRayne for the longest time — I knew she could use them. So many young kids at the school — you try to give them the world — so I’m glad the dresses are now in LaRayne’s hands.”
Many notable people, including tribal officials, Native leaders and celebrities have worn Geraldine’s designs. She created vestments for several local priests, as well as bishops and Pope John Paul II.
For Running Bear to think of St. Joseph’s as the best new home for the dresses made by Geraldine and other members of He Sapa Kateri Circle was so special, said LaRayne.
“When we tell the kids about the history behind the dresses, they say things like, ‘Oh, wow!’ and then usually ask to wear them,” said LaRayne. “The girls like wearing things that are different and unique. These dresses are anything but cookie-cutter. The girls will be excited.”
The dresses now carefully hang among the rest of the unique collection of regalia at St. Joseph’s to be worn by students at a wačhípi — powwow — now and into the future.
And what an honor it is.
To learn more about St. Joseph’s Indian School and the cultural opportunities provided to students, visit www.stjo.org/culture.