Sheridan's 1954 Miss Indian America, now 85, awarded a $50,000 United States Artists Fellows recognition

(Sheridan, Wyo.) — In 1954, Mary Louise Defender (Wilson) was crowned the second-ever Miss Indian America in Sheridan during All American Indian Days. All American Indian Days were a part of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo from 1953 for almost 30 years, until the last queen reigned in 1980, according to the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. Defender Wilson lived in Sheridan during her 1954-55 reign, but now lives in North Dakota. She hopes to return next summer for the next Miss Indian America reunion gathering during the 2016 Sheridan WYO Rodeo, according to Judy Slack of The Wyoming Room at the Sheridan County Public Library. And this year, at age 85, Defender Wilson was named the first ever North Dakotan to be awarded a $50,000 United States Artists Fellows recognition for her storytelling work. The United States Artists recently announced 37 USA Fellows for 2015 representing nine creative disciplines. Each USA Fellow received a $50,000 award and recognition as one of America’s most accomplished and innovative artists. The award supports artistic practice and professional development, opening up creative possibilities through the transformative power of unrestricted financial support, according to the United States Artists. “Mary Louise Defender Wilson is a Dakotah and Hidatsa traditionalist and storyteller who grew up amongst a family of storytellers. She learned these ancient narratives as a child and as an adult, and at the age of 85 continues to share them with her community, our state, and our country," Troyd Geist, Folklorist with the North Dakota Council on the Arts, said. Defender Wilson is highly regarded and decorated traditional storyteller, Geist said. "The stories she tells speak to the human experience. Those ancient narratives continue today because they are just as relevant now as they were in centuries past – love and hatred, joy and sadness, unity and separation, peace and violence, truth and the desire to be better human beings. "Mary Louise is a North Dakota treasure, and with this recent recognition, one of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious awards in the arts, she is now solidified as a national treasure," Geist said. She is the first person ever from the state of North Dakota to be honored with the award, and the first person ever in the nation to be recognized with this award in the art form of storytelling. Since its inception in 2006, United States Artists have awarded nearly 450 artists with over $21 million in support. *Feature photo: Mary Louise Defender Wilson with the Missouri River in the background. h/t Troyd Geist, North Dakota Council on the Arts / Pitchengine Communities* #dally #news