Native Village Youth and Education News

March 1, 2009 Issue 195 Volume 4


Gift for Obama - Quilter makes special present for president
By Jodi Rave

Montana: Angela Sprague Kidder of Missoula could hardly have imagined making a hand-stitched Indian star quilt for President Barack Obama.

And the president's adoptive parents, Mary and Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle of Lodge Grass, could hardly have imagined they'd never get close enough to Obama to give him that star quilt after his Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony.

But it's not easy to get next to the president of the United States, even if, as his adoptive parents, you were assigned $50,000 donor inauguration seats. So, the Black Eagles spent the day like hundreds of thousands of others on the National Mall with a barely a glimpse of Obama.

“We couldn't even see anything,” said Mary Black Eagle, 74, who attended the swearing-in ceremony with her 75-year-old husband. “There was a tree in front of me and it was so cold, we had to leave. All I could see was that big screen on the right-hand side. I should have got on the (Crow) float, so I would have been able to see him. I would have been able to wave at him.”

The Black Eagles left the inaugural festivities carrying the eight-pointed star blanket quilted with a black eagle holding a pipe in its talons.

As for Sprague Kidder, she's content the quilt she made will still be delivered to Obama, only this time by mail. Plans are also being made to include the quilt in an art exhibition titled “Quilts for Obama: Celebrating the Inauguration of our 44th President.” The exhibit runs through July 26 at Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

The road to the White House has been an unexpected one for Sprague Kidder, a longtime community activist and member of the American Indian Movement. At the same time, she's a likely candidate for making the quilt, given that she's spent the last half-century making and hand-stitching the prized blankets.

Her quilting skills were learned from women like her maternal grandmother, Rose Sprague, and Lakota elders, including Alyce Head and Selene Not Help Him.

Sprague Kidder, who is from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi, makes upward of 100 star blankets a year. A quilting stand usually remains set up in her living room.

“See my fingers?” she said on Monday, showing calloused fingertips. “That's all I do. Sometimes I'll sit here and cut diamonds then I'll sit down and just make ‘tops.' Then, when I make 30 tops, I'll sit down and quilt them.”

Several months ago, Sprague Kidder started sewing a blanket top designed with an eagle. She thought she cut the eagle from midnight-blue fabric. Once she had it under a light, however, she realized the fabric was actually black, a color Lakota elders taught her never to use in a blanket. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh,' and just put it away.”

But word soon spread to Mary and Sonny Black Eagle, who adopted Obama as a son during an Apsaalooke ceremony in May when he visited the Crow Reservation. The couple asked Sprague Kidder to finish the quilt so they could take it to Washington with them.

The couple gave Obama an Indian name, “He Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” Some people have taken to calling him Barack Black Eagle.

Sprague Kidder completed the nearly 8-by-7-foot quilt, finishing it with a turquoise-colored background. The Black Eagles took it to Washington, carrying the blanket used for significant occasions.

“We all come from the Star Nation,” said Sprague Kidder. “That's why we make these star quilts, to cover ourselves because we're from the heavens. They cover us. They keep us warm.”

It's fitting the president of the United States should have one, too.

“They are used for people who have accomplished something,” said the quilter.


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