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Over the course of a week in November 2023, the students at Four Winds High School in Fort Totten had not only written a song together but they had also arranged it, produced it, and filmed it, creating their own video. The project was led by local recording artist and music producer Stuart James. A member of Spirit Lake Tribe, like the majority of the students at Four Winds, James immediately engaged the students and the community by explaining the project during a concert to mark the beginning of the workshop. He was joined by his brother Ethan Lohnes and musician Jantzonia to lead the Tiwahe Media Workshop at the school. (Tiwahe is a Lakota word meaning family and the interdependence among all living things.) The three used their songwriting experience and video production skills to guide the students in all aspects of music production. The students in turn used their life experiences and culture to infuse their song and video with their own perspectives and musical style.

The students worked on the project during Jenna Haagenson’s business education classes and David Perry’s career/technical classes and after school. The workshop was a way for students to immerse themselves in a music project that they could claim as their own. The students collaborated on the lyrics, which helped increase their creative writing ability and knowledge of rhyme. They used drums, keyboards, and mixing equipment. According to James, the goal of the workshop was “to journey into the world of hip hop, showcasing its significance as a tool for storytelling, cultural preservation, and self-expression.”

Teaching artist Stuart James standing in front of a microphone and playing a Native American drumA recipient of North Dakota Council on the Arts’ Indigenous Artist Growth and Development Fellowship, Stuart James (left) began learning how to rap and produce music from his older cousins. He wrote rap songs and started recording songs, teaching himself how to record and produce from YouTube videos. He didn’t find a lot of other hip hop artists with backgrounds like his and felt “there was something missing there.” After teaching himself how to produce songs and videos, James is now able to teach students using up-to-dateStudents practicing during the Tiwahe Media Workshop at Four Winds High School, photo credit Brigitte Greywater technology while incorporating their ideas and experiences. He stated, “I want to help others like music helped me.” Though the final product at Four Winds High School was a video, the entire project actually involved teaching students how to communicate through collaborating on the songwriting. The three workshop leaders encouraged the students to express themselves in new ways. “When they leave, they have a notebook and outlets for expression,” James said. He designed the workshop to be a “safe space for them to freely express themselves,” and he hopes the experience will help students to learn to speak for themselves and regain their voice. The positive reaction from the students and staff has inspired James to look forward to leading more workshops for young people. He emphasized, “We’ve found our purpose and want to continue to do more work like this.”

A committee at Four Winds High School arranged for the project to take place by applying for an Artist in Residence (AIR) grant from North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA). The committee applied for the grant in order to expose students to music “as an outlet, both as a voice to students and as a potential career path,” according to Brigitte Greywater, school psychologist and writer of the grant application. She noted several reasons for the success of the project. “Stuart was organized and knew what he was doing coming into it,” she said. James developed an immediate rapport with the students. Throughout the week, James, Lohnes, and Jantzonia utilized a variety of approaches to keep the energy high during class periods and after school. The result is hip hop, enhanced by technology and infused with the spirit of the students at Four Winds.


NDCA’s Artist in Residence (AIR) grant program focuses on bringing professional artists into educational settings “to engage students, teachers, and the community in artistic experiences,” according to Arts in Education Director Matthew Anderson. “These experiences foster creativity and community pride and contribute to cultural enrichment and personal growth.” The Tiwahe Media Workshop at Four Winds is a prime example of an AIR grant project. During the workshop, students “gained hand-on experience in the creative process, discovered new dimensions of music and media, and connected their cultural heritage with their artistic creations,” Anderson continued. “Artists in residence programs enrich the educational environment and inspire students to explore the arts in meaningful ways.”


North Dakota Council on the Arts is a state agency funded by the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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