After Charles Rencountre moved back to Rapid City he got married, started raising a family, but the only life available for him there, despite attempts at entering the art community, was the dark side. The world of drinking, the world he was supposed to never try and leave or question. That life did not work out for him, and Rencountre wanted out of it.
“It (was) another 15 years before I would leave again,” Rencountre said. “In ‘89, I showed up again in Santa Fe. I started school, I had a really good time. (I was) drifting into alcoholism, but still going to school, got into theater and dance and that whole acting scene, and did that for a couple of years. Then the alcohol just kept dragging on me, it took me down in the end. It was years before I got back to art, during that really hard time I was regretfully drinking more. I was getting into the art world, I managed some galleries, I curated some galleries. I was selling art for about 15 years.”
Eventually Rencountre ended up back in Rapid City, where life hit rock bottom. He attempted to walk back to Santa Fe, perhaps because at some deep level, he understood that this was where he must go to face his demons and find the person he was meant to be. He ended up in Pine Ridge lockup, but although it took a while, eventually he hitched and walked his way back to Santa Fe, where he took up residence at a homeless shelter.
Many of us come to a defining moment in our struggle, where we make a decision, perhaps not even a decision we recognize as transformative, when we finally leave the pain of the past behind, Rencountre didn’t know it at the time, but he had made that decision.
“I was looking for work, trying to get back on my feet,” Rencountre said. “I had some friends down there, and they started spreading my name that I would do odd jobs, and Alicia was in this African dance class, and she needed some help in her yard, so she called me up. Something she wouldn’t regularly do, but because it was through the connections I had, she trusted them. It took about a year or so of her and I getting to know each other, becoming friends, me helping her out. She had other jobs for other people she turned me on to, and I started picking myself up, and I really liked her, and I went through a couple of alcoholic things in the time being her friend, so she got to see the rugged side of me, and one day, I had just had enough, and I just decided I wasn’t going to drink anymore.”
It has been ten years.
“I graduated at top of my class, 2015 valedictorian,” Rencountre said. “It took me 30 years, but I got back to that school and walked out with a degree. My schooling was hard, in that I was grappling with some of the administration, but my experience with the faculty was amazing, and the resources they have at that school are amazing as well.”
Alicia was a powerful source of inspiration for Rencountre, having another person who understood who he was and what he wanted to become: “She was going to school at IAIA at the time. She was a very intelligent woman, and an exceptional artist and writer, she graduated from IAIA with two degrees. So we hooked up as artists pretty darn quick.”
The main focus of their collaboration was Not Afraid to Look (NATL): “NATL was idea that I was holding onto for a long time. I had seen a pipe in a book, by John C Ewers. I really loved that book because he mentioned me in that book, he didn’t use my name, but he was talking about me. I loved the little Indian guy sitting on the pipe, looking down the shaft of the pipe, at the bowl of the pipe. The bowl of the pipe was carved into a Whiteman’s face and it was called Not Afraid to Look the Whiteman in the Face.”
Recently, Alicia and Charles journeyed to New York City.
“We got to visit with some people at the UN,” Alicia said. “And a lot of them are connected to Non-Governmental Organizations that connect to different countries at the UN. Through a lot of back doors, we met a group of really strong, really beautiful people, who in different ways, coming from different angles, are working to understand what it is to be a citizen of the world, what it is to really care about each other. When we were visiting them, and talking about the piece, Charles was saying how you come to peace from a place of fearlessness, which is a really different way of seeing it. There’s something about how the past is leading the present that’s really powerful, that this figure represents.”
There is a chance NATL will have a third incarnation somewhere in New York City.
On October 13, 2018, Alicia and Charles will be at the Kirby Student Center, University of Minnesota Duluth, where they will give a presentation and speak at the Tweed Museum, talking about NATL, and the possibility exists another NATL can be built there. Honor the Earth will be putting on “a big feed.” Charles wants the community to have a say in this NATL, and so it may differ, as the community puts a signature Duluth stamp on it, but it will be the same basic structure and message.
All of this comes back to the big concrete sculpture on the hill overlooking the rolling prairie grass near Standing Rock; Charles said: “(People) come to that place to remember what happened there, to pray. There’s all kinds of prayer-ties and offerings all around its feet and body. It’s kind of like an altar. They had a reunion there just a couple weeks ago and we got pix of a bunch of water protectors, just standing around there, holding their banners. It’s really cool. They have a place to go when they want to go back and remember what happened.”
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@ msn.com)