Mato: LHS alum receives Forbes 30 under 30 award


Used with Permission by Mato Standing Soldier

Mato Standing Soldier is a film and TV composer, musical artist and Native American activist.

Emma Forster, Editor-In-Chief

Each year, Forbes magazine publishes a ‘30 Under 30’ list, naming 30 notable individuals under the age of 30 in a number of different career fields. The 2022 30 Under 30 list for Hollywood and Entertainment featured Mato Standing Soldier, also known as Mato Wayuhi, a member of the LHS Class of 2016 and an accomplished TV and film composer, musical artist and activist. 

Standing Soldier was heavily involved at LHS and beyond, participating in football, Dakota Academy for Performing Arts, Creative Writing Club and the local music scene. After graduation, Standing Soldier moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he graduated with a BA in Cinema and Media Studies in 2020. Between composing for the Hulu series “Reservation Dogs,” writing, performing and producing numerous independent albums and even performing alongside The Black Eyed Peas and Redbone, Standing Soldier’s resumé boasts numerous musical accomplishments. But years ago in Sioux Falls, SD, it all began with a JAY-Z song. 

“For the sixth grade spring variety show at PHMS, I rapped JAY-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ to a packed crowd of 93 other sixth graders,” said Standing Soldier. “I’ve always loved music and performing.”

Throughout middle school, Standing Soldier was introduced to the music that inspires him to this day, including the discographies of artists such as Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean, who made him feel as though a career in music was possible. 

“[These are] still my favorite artists to this day. That changed everything for me,” said Standing Soldier. “Not only did I feel represented by these artists within the collective, I felt like I could do it too.”

However, Standing Soldier’s journey to his career was not always smooth-sailing. In fact, a large part of its beginning originated in a grounding doled out by his mother. 

“In high school my mom caught me…embarking on some alternative scholastic endeavors,” said Standing Soldier. “She put me in drug counseling and sentenced me to house arrest for months. In this solitary confinement, I [thought] ‘I have a lot to say right now, let me finally start making music.’”

Making music altered the way Standing Soldier viewed himself, his future and the world around him, and that view has not changed since. 

“My view of myself changed completely after the day I started making music. This wave of unbridled confidence washed over me…confidence in my abilities and trajectory,” said Standing Soldier. “I thought I was the greatest artist of all time on day one of this whole thing, and I still feel the same. It’s just been a journey of convincing others.” 

Although Standing Soldier’s focus is on music, he also found a passion for filmmaking early on, leading him to his career in TV and film composition. 

“I took this audio/video course at the CTE Academy, which introduced me to filmmaking,” said Standing Soldier. “I ended up falling in love with filmmaking and decided I would also embark on a career in that, in tandem with music.”

Standing Soldier was a part of the Netflix Illuminative Producers Program Class of 2022, which helped him develop his skills as an artist in both film and music, as well as the different artistic approaches he utilizes for each outlet. 

“The Producers Program help[ed] me to realize that, while they’re both artforms, I use different parts of my brain to dissect, compartmentalize and execute within the realms of music and filmmaking,” said Standing Soldier. “With music, I’m much more protective of my creative expression; my music is my story to tell with the utmost agency. I’m less romantic with filmmaking.”

The Producers Program also led Standing Soldier to his latest job title, as the composer for a new Marvel Studios and Disney+ series “Echo.” While impressive, Standing Soldier does not believe this is his most monumental work, or that which is most representative of himself.

“I’m most proud of my own solo work,” said Standing Soldier. “In particular, this new album I’m working on is what I’m most proud of because it’s my most salient project in regards to who I am and where I come from.”

Film and TV allowed Standing Soldier to create a place for himself and his art in the entertainment industry, but he hopes to pursue his individual musical projects full-time in the future. 

“Composing was a successful attempt of getting my pinky toe in the door. I do love doing it and am eternally grateful for what it’s allowed me to do thus far,” said Standing Soldier. “Composing rewarded me [with] artistic legitimacy.”

Standing Soldier’s goal, in whatever endeavor he may pursue, has always been to act as a spokesperson and advocate for Native American communities. In high school, this led him to write a letter, later published in both the Statesman and The Argus Leader, about the negative impact of racist team mascots on Native American communities, his first foray into the advocacy he continues to work for. 

“Everything I do now is just an extension of the efforts I was fostering in high school, both in music and community work,” said Standing Soldier. “I’m grateful to have started my path relatively young, with support from close friends and family. I’m still doing the same stuff, just on a grander scale.”

This early work for Native American communities has extended to Standing Soldier’s current status as a board member for Wo Ohitike (“To Have Courage” in Lakota), a non-profit that provides social support and Lakota cultural teachings to formerly incarcerated individuals in South Dakota. The organization was founded by Standing Soldier’s father, who passed away in 2020, and whose legacy Standing Soldier hopes to preserve. 

“Easing the transition into the outside world, while providing community-based support, is our overall goal,” said Standing Soldier. “We want to provide accountability, while conveying that incarcerated individuals are as much a part of our communities as others.”

This work hits close to home for Standing Soldier, with personal experience and family connection guiding him in his advocacy. 

“Wo Ohitike is important to me because my whole life I’ve had family members who were incarcerated,” said Standing Soldier. “These racist, exploitative systems are set in place to dehumanize prisoners, locking the cell and throwing away the key.”

On all accounts, Standing Soldier should not have ‘made it.’ After all, South Dakota is the last place one expects to see listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30. But despite all barriers, Standing Soldier has succeeded in every venture he has attempted, now becoming an admirable advocate for not only his community, but all other aspiring artists.

“I’m earning my stripes in a different fashion than most,” said Standing Soldier. “I hope other kids see that it’s possible too and that there are several ways to start your art careers. Don’t ever let them tell you that you can’t.”