A member of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota (or Sioux), Kevin Locke was raised in an environment where traditional culture and religion had almost lost the battle against the government-driven forces that preferred either cultural assimilation or extermination to the preservation of traditional Native American ways of life. Despite this climate, Locke began to learn about his ancestral culture, learning the Lakota language and single-handedly rescuing the art of Northern Plains flute from the brink of extinction. Locke managed to achieve these goals in spite of archaic laws (since repealed) designed to make Lakota culture illegal.
Locke (whose Lakota name is Tokeya Inajin, meaning "The First to Arise") acquired a Master of Arts degree in educational administration from the University of South Dakota, where he first intended to study law; he very quickly realized that law studies were a mistake and switched career tracks. He maintains a strong interest in education, and loves to work with children, especially when it comes to the Hoop Dance (which he extends to girls as well as boys; traditionally, the Hoop Dance is male only.) Locke first came to prominence as a Hoop Dancer, a true master of an intricate performance in which the hoops symbolize all elements of life, the combinations being used for metaphor and story and as a way of portraying creation and the interweaving of life. In all, 28 hoops come into play during the dance, all of them coming to be interlocked by the end.
Locke's flute work has been getting attention since the 1970s, with his main inspiration having been the late Richard Fool Bull, a flute maker and performer. Locke developed much of his repertoire from vocal performances, due to the lack of Native American flute players during the 1970s. This approach informed the material on Love Songs of the Lakota, a 1983 release on Indian House Records.
Locke has continued to perform and record diligently over the years, gaining the respect of such flute masters as R. Carlos Nakai, who has said that Locke is perhaps the best of them all. His Hoop Dance certainly should not be missed, nor should the floating, serene beauty of his flute playing, with Open Circle (the cover of which depicts Locke in the midst of the Hoop Dance) and Dream Catcher being essential listening alongside Love Songs of the Lakota.
Locke received a National Endowment of the Arts Award in 1990. ~ Steven McDonald