“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” — Robert Bresson
Caught by a breeze high in the sky, Jon Cadotte’s painted buffalo kite floats above a tepee.
It is one of 15 kites commissioned by SkyWindWorld Inc. to showcase Native American art through the Flying Buffalo Project, said Terry Zee Lee. She cofounded the Billings-based nonprofit with her husband and kite maker Drake Smith, a former Georgia Tech engineer.
The project encourages Native American children to stay in school and “consider becoming engineers, scientists, artists or anything that brings them great joy,” Lee said.
The kites tell the visual history of Indian buffalo culture.
Since Lee and Smith launched the endeavor in 1998, 48 kite builders from across the United States and around the world have used kite building to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to 6,000 school children in the United States and Canada.
“We go anywhere we are needed,” Lee said. “Any festival, any event, any school, to lift the spirits of the kids up into the sky as they gaze with awe, laughing as their handmade kites soar above them.”
American and Montana history takes flight with another of SkyWindWorld’s projects.
After reading "The Journals of Lewis and Clark," Lee selected 30 quotes or events for kite designs. The topics were divided into three subject areas: Rivers, animals and plants; Montana locations named or mentioned by Meriwether Lewis or William Clark; and native people met on the journey.
SkyWindWorld commissioned the best American and Canadian kite builders to make the kites.
While conducting more than 150 group tours about the Corps of Discovery kites, Lee emphasized Native American roles during the historic expedition.
“Without the Native people allowing the Corps to cross native lands and assisting them continually with food, horses, housing and directions, the arduous journey could not have succeeded,” Lee said. “We owe them a great debt, not marginalization and forced assimilation.”
Until early spring, the kites were on display at Billings Logan International Airport. The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel will feature them this summer as part of the annual convention for the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail Foundation, July 23 through 27.