Wah pi ki iw ls kwew
White Eagle Woman
Chippewa Cree, Rocky Boy Reservation
Be it fate, coincidence, or serendipity, Kaylene Big Knife entered the world on her father’s birthday. She grew up creative and adventurous, exploring what she called her grandmother Minnie’s backyard—the hills and mountains of the Rocky Boy Reservation. Academic pursuits expanded her adventures to New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, and abroad to Australia. Kaylene is now an expert graphic designer and teacher with a passion for her Cree language.
Kaylene descends from a long line of strong Cree women. Through them and particularly her grandmother Minnie, she learned the spiritual practices that sustained her people for a millennium. The strong and steady presence of her grandmother supported her pursuit of a graduate degree in linguistics at the University of Arizona. Before leaving for Arizona, Minnie went through the protocols and preparations for Kaylene to receive her Cree name, White Eagle Woman. This proved to be a source of courage for Kaylene.
“Rocky Boy is the place my spirit calls home,” Kaylene says. It is the place she feels grounded and is where the people she is committed to serve are. She embraces the generational responsibility to her family and tribal nation. Kaylene brought her skills as a graphic designer together with her creative force and passion for the language to her home reservation in support of language revitalization efforts. She is in a continual state of creation be it visual art, Cree language materials, or programs at Stone Child College. Launched in the fall of 2012, Kaylene was instrumental in the development of an Associate of Arts degree in the Cree language.
Love for her people and homeland is reflected in everything Kaylene creates. Plants and animals find their way into her paintings and beadwork. Believing that language and cultural knowledge are healing inspires her work on language materials. As she learns the ancestral knowledge embedded within language, she creates materials that pass on the stories and protocols. Along with her grandmother Minnie, Kaylene is creating and building a priceless resource for her tribal nation— “Minnie and Kay’s Cree Library.” This project weaves Minnie’s profound knowledge with Kaylene’s talents to create original language and cultural materials as works of art and devotion.
Kaylene keeps an open mind and uses hope and humor to navigate the frustrations and struggles inherent to the deep work of cultural revitalization. She is interested in inspiring others, particularly youth, to co-create with her on this journey to teach the language and knowledge in the same manner that her people have always done—with love, gentleness, laughter, and beauty.