Rough Rider Industries worker finds creative spark making miniature tipis

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 4:24 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Those who are incarcerated have one major decision to make: how they’ll use their time behind bars. For one man, this meant working to learn more about his cultural heritage and discovering how art can bring something positive into the world.

“Well, this tipi here I made just a couple of days ago,” said Phillip Seewalker, a resident worker at Rough Rider Industries.

Seewalker displays artwork he’s made over the past six years.

“Never did anything like that before. Didn’t really know how to draw that good,” said Seewalker.

The art started as a request to make a bird house but has transitioned into something more meaningful.

“He has no guidance from anyone else on this. He just puts his own creative ideas together and I think that’s what makes it awesome,” Alexis Burgard, accounting and marketing specialist at Rough Rider Industries.

He works in a Rough Rider Industries workshop in Bismarck. He says he never realized he had this kind of creativity.

“When I first came in, I was kind of, like, troubled. A troubled guy. I didn’t really want to do anything I wanted to be... Just trouble. I was mad at the world. So, one day I woke up and just kind of thought this ain’t for me. You know, I got to do something,” said Seewalker.

Through the art, he’s embracing Native American designs that he’s been learning more about.

“I always use the red, black, yellow, and white for the four directions,” said Seewalker.

He says the work’s helped him redirect energy from his past and allows him to encourage those around him.

“It’s therapeutic. You know, it helps you out. It clears your mind,” said Seewalker.

Each tipi takes Phillip, and several other RRI workers that help, around one day to build and a couple days to paint. He’s made around 50 so far and plans to continue to create.

Phillip's miniature tipis
Phillip's miniature tipis(KFYR)

Once Phillip’s tipis are complete, they are placed throughout the showroom floor and are sent to the North Dakota Heritage Center or North Dakota Embroidery & Gifts.

Rough Rider Industries is a self-funded state agency that employs incarcerated individuals at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, the James River Correctional Center, and the Missouri River Correctional Center to teach them a trade. No taxpayer dollars are used for the programs. Revenue generated from product sales helps cover the cost of programs within the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.