SIOUX VALLEY (Manitoba)— Sioux Valley Dakota Nation artist Roland Ironman (60s Scoop adoptee) has a prolific portfolio.
People are bound to have encountered one of his logo, sign or mural designs while travelling around Westman.
One of his most recent projects has been painting the walls of the new Canupawakpa Dakota Oyate community hall, which have been adorned with hand-painted, brilliant star blankets and significant spiritual symbols after consultations with elders.
"We sat in a room and we just talked … they talked about what they wanted on those walls, and I just had a notebook and wrote down whatever ideas they gave me," Ironman said.
He has emblazoned the walls with bright reds and yellows complemented by rich blacks and whites. He still has some finishing touches to complete, but the project has been delayed due to COVID-19 and bad road conditions.
Ironman created the original mural in the old community hall before it burned down in a fire.
One of his bigger initial projects was painting the inside of Veterans Hall in Sioux Valley. The hand-painted images include a woman on horseback with a baby, representing the arrival of people in Sioux Valley. The other animal images included are spiritually significant — the Buffalo Clan, the Eagle Clan and the Elk Clan.
Ironman is originally a sign painter by trade.
He learned his trade in the core of downtown Toronto while attending George Mountain College. It was a major change of pace for the young artist, who grew up in Sioux Valley.
He ended up in the city after visiting his dad, who lived just outside of Toronto, and his mom, who lived in the core of the city. Ironman said he considers himself lucky because both sides of his family are filled with artistic souls. His father was an artist and his mother was a star blanket seamstress, his older sister creates star blankets and his younger sister creates ribbon skirts.
Ironman is a ’60s Scoop survivor and saw his family split up, sending the siblings out of Sioux Valley through adoptions. He was the youngest and was taken away from home when he was six or seven years old.
Ironman and his older brother were placed on a Kola-area farm. The people they were staying with, who were an older couple, wanted to retire and move back to British Columbia. Because of this, Ironman was sent back to Sioux Valley.
"We were lucky we got to come back to the rez here," Ironman said.
He and his brother were transferred to the Pratt family, and it became the place that suited them best. They got to stay on a farm, where they worked, driving tractors and combines.
"All the fun kind of stuff," Ironman said. "They had horses there too, so that’s where I learned to ride the horse."
He took to the arts while in grade school and eventually signed up for an arts class. From there, he went to Virden and took another art course. His passion later took him to Oak Lake, and he eventually settled in at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School when it first opened up, and was able to take a two-year art course.
Upon graduating, he attended Red River Community College in Winnipeg to try out advertising art.
"It wasn’t my cup of tea," Ironman said with a shy smile.
From there, he went to Toronto and was looking for a job downtown. While visiting, he stopped by a sign shop. They were not hiring at the time, but they told him to apply for the George Brown Community College sign painting course.
"I got in, and that was my cup of tea," Ironman said with a grin. Before the course was over, he had already secured a job. "It worked out perfectly."
He stayed in Toronto for about 10 years before returning to Manitoba following his previous trail — he started in Winnipeg, then Brandon, Oak Lake and Virden before resettling in Sioux Valley.
"I came back the same way, just in reverse," Ironman said.
He launched a sign shop in Brandon in the early 1990s. He completed countless signs and also took to hand-painting unique designs on cars.
Ironman continues to work on signs and other projects, but is making more time to focus on his art and his community.
"I’m kind of an outdoors camper guy," Ironman said. "I like hunting and fishing … I’m into archery, too, real heavy, it’s the traditional archery I’m into."
He enjoys sharing his skills with others in the community.
Ironman recently turned 65 and has been focused on passing down his skills to young people, especially when it comes to traditional archery. He tries to get them out hunting with him in the fall, and they also go down to Rapid City, S.D., for an archery tournament run by the Dakota people.
"It is an excellent place to go. I like going to the Black Hills," Ironman said, adding he hopes to return this year.
Ironman also volunteers with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation’s Wipazoka Wakpa Climate Change and Environment working group.
"It’s a good feeling to know that I’m doing stuff for the community," Ironman said. "I try and do lots for my community."
[Sioux Valley Dakota Nation or Wipazoka Wakpa is a Dakota First Nation that resides west of Brandon, Manitoba.]