In addition to its people, the small town of Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation is also home to a large and diverse dog population. On this particular May day, it seems most of them have decided to chase my rental car, biting the tires as I slowly make my way up the steep driveway to Davida Little Spotted Horse’s house.
They maintain their grips while backing up in an unsightly dog dance, letting me know they don’t give up easily.
Pausing near the door, I honk as instructed.
Little Spotted Horse bends down to yell at the dogs in the reserve. “Oh, shut up; it’s good!”
Immediately they change their behavior, wag their tails and smile stupidly at me as if apologizing for their previous attack.
I rush into the house before the dogs change their minds.
“Please don’t mind the mess,” Little Spotted Horse says, inviting me into its busy world.
Five-gallon drink dispensers, packs of disposable cups, and bags of lemons are strewn across the floor.
A mother of five, grandmother of three, adoptive mother of a baby and toddler, and heavy metal musician and songwriter, Little Spotted Horse prepares supplies for a family lemonade stand. The family specializes in tall glasses of flavored lemonade that are popular in the community. When she’s ready, she spreads the word on Facebook and gets a steady stream of customers, enough to help fund family trips.
In the corner, away from the baby carrier and the toys, I see an electric guitar leaning against the wall next to a speaker.
Although his family and community are at the center of his busy life, his music is never far away.
Dressed in her black leather motorbike jacket and black boots, Little Spotted Horse, 49, sits on the sofa as she gives baby Skylar her bottle. All chubby legs and cheeks, Skylar gazes at her contentedly.
Little Spotted Horse describes his remarkable life and musical journey.
As a youngster growing up in Denver, she joined a small choir started by her sophomore teacher who immediately noticed Little Spotted Horse’s voice. “Even then, I had a very wide vocal range,” she said.
The teacher began to train her in classical music. She continued her classical training until high school but soon discovered heavy metal music. Little Spotted Horse fell in love with the work of Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth and others, captivated by the complex and emotional stories of their songs.
“Their songs described their personal journeys; I really liked it,” she said.
Little Spotted Horse and his family moved back to the Pine Ridge Reservation as teenagers.
Most heavy metal musicians on the reserve at this time were male; they didn’t take her seriously, according to Little Spotted Horse.
Stubbornly, however, she continued to write and sing on her own; soon she started getting requests to perform at different venues in the area.
Little Spotted Horse has worked with Spoken Word artist Thana Redhawk, The Peace Poets, rapper Indigenize and many more.
Early in her career, producers asked her if she would consider wearing fringe or feathers when performing or including Lakota drums, flute, bells or words in her music.
She replied, “Ah, no.”
She shamelessly defies categorization as a Native American musician. “I stick to my guns; I make my music the way I feel it,” she said.
In 2019 she traveled to Brooklyn, New York to record with Rufus Cappadocia, a well-known cellist. However, just when she was starting to gain recognition, the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold for her and many other musicians.
Unfortunately, she and several members of her family caught Covid. Although it has been over a year since the illness, she finds that her voice has changed.
“I lost part of my range; my lung capacity went down,” she said.
Little Spotted Horse, however, isn’t giving up. She works hard using vocal exercises to regain her ability and strength.
In addition to his work and dedication as takola continues to provide the overriding motivation for his music, his parenthood and his life. In the Lakota tradition, the takolas are communal warrior societies. More than warriors, however, takolas function as guardians who help serve the community according to Little Spotted Horse.
For example, taking care of the two children placed with her is part of her takola duty.
“We will adopt these children if necessary, but I really believe that their mother, who is very young, may just need time to pull herself together,” Little Spotted Horse said.
Her own mother lost Little Spotted Horse and her siblings in foster care for six years.
“My mom went through treatment, took parenting classes, got her college degree and got a job during those six years. She never stopped working and fighting to get us back and eventually she did,” Little Spotted Horse said.
“I always tell people, if my mom could fight for us for six years, they can too,” she said.
“People abandon their parents too easily,” she added.
As his singing voice gains strength, Little Spotted Horse begins to perform again.
She finds solace in the cathartic nature of heavy metal.
Fans are reacting to stories in his songs about dealing with issues such as domestic violence.
For example, frustrated with a friend who didn’t want to leave an abusive relationship, she asked the woman to join her in writing a song about the situation.
The result was “Who do you trust.”
According to Little Spotted Horse, the experience helped the woman leave the relationship. “Sometimes it’s easier to put your emotions to music, the message has a chance to sink in,” she said.
Little Spotted Horse sees its music as a way to help and inspire young people and women on the reserve.
“Kids need to see a variety of musicians here on the ground floor; I love performing for young people so they can see an aboriginal woman doing something unexpected,” she said.
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