National Geographic Awards Red Cloud Alum
with Photography Scholarship

posted on July 26, 2013
by Angel White Eyes '08

I am a graduate of Red Cloud Indian School, class of 2008 and soon will be starting my final year at Oglala Lakota College, studying Fine Arts. Recently, to my great surprise, I was offered a scholarship from National Geographic to attend a photography workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

It all started earlier in the year when I was first contacted by Aaron Huey, a well known National Geographic photographer who was responsible for the photographs of Pine Ridge in the August 2012 edition of National Geographic Magazine. He contacted me to ask about using a story I had put on, a public storytelling website, to be used in the “Pine Ridge Storytelling Project” and in part of his presentation at a National Geographic Photo Seminar.  

"It was the first time I would leave the reservation on my own. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was excited, scared, anxious—I felt so many different emotions all at once."

Huey started the Pine Ridge Storytelling project after a class from Red Cloud High School had written to him asking to tell their stories in response to his work in National Geographic Magazine.

I really loved the idea because the media so often portrays our home as a negative place and neglects to show the beauty that I see in my home. Before this, I had started a blog, posting photos of only the beauty of Pine Ridge as my own response and I felt that this project was a wonderful way to help highlight even more positive stories, so I began writing and posting my stories and photos there too.

One day, I received a call from Aaron Huey informing me that because of my work on National Geographic was awarding me with a scholarship to attend a professional photography workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was so surprised!

After some initial planning with Aaron Huey, I was then put into contact with Chris Rainer, another photographer with National Geographic. Chris Rainer helped me to find the “Beginning Photography” workshop with Sarah Meghan Lee, which we both thought might be the best fit for me.

Previously, I learned about my camera and photography on my own and though I had taken a photography class at Oglala Lakota College, they weren’t able to provide the equivalent resources I needed. So, I felt this class would help me understand my camera and the art of photography better in order to provide a solid base to work from in the future.  

After I figured out which class to take and got in contact with the director of the workshops everything happened so quickly. I had to leave for Santa Fe just a couple of days later. It was the first time I would leave the reservation on my own. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was excited, scared, anxious—I felt so many different emotions all at once. It was hard for me to leave and to adjust at first and it felt like I was leaving to a foreign place, but I knew I didn’t want to give up this opportunity and that I would do my best.

It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I knew I’d be able to take back and use what I learned there. My instructor, Sarah Meghan Lee, was always supportive and believed in my abilities, which made me feel like I might be able to succeed at this - and get through my homesickness! It really felt great to have someone supporting me, especially being so far away from the reservation.

Looking back, I learned so much in just a few short days. At the end of the workshop, there was a presentation of the work we had all completed and the instructors spoke about us. Sarah Meghan Lee decided to share my story. She told everyone about where I came from and how I got there, and how I got through the struggle of being away from home.  She told everyone how proud she was of me. To hear a great photographer tell other photographers my story and to see my photo on a big screen in front of everyone made me feel very significant and honored that I was given this experience.

I’ll always remember these moments. The workshop reignited my creativity and inspired me. I want to share the beauty of Pine Ridge with the world!  I also hope to share what I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had with the youth from my home in the future.

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Photo: All Rights Reserved ©Red Cloud Indian School & Angel White Eyes