Indian Students Begin Telling Their Own Stories

May 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 14-4: Cultural Resilience, Tribal College News
By Meg Kearney
TOM SLEIGH AND STUDENT

National Book Foundation’s American Voices program at SKC featured poet Tom Sleigh conducting writing workshops with students from Two Eagle River School. Photo by David Spear

“It was amazing to see a group of young people, who initially appeared to be shy and unresponsive, transformed into a highly motivated gathering of engaged creative artists expressing themselves through their own writings,” said Salish Kootenai College (SKC) Assistant Vice President Corwin Clairmont. Poet Tom Sleigh spent a week on the campus in Pablo, MT, sponsored by the National Book Foundation’s “American Voices” program. The program brings authors to American Indian reservations across the country to talk about the writing life and encourage Indian peoples to write their own traditional and present-day stories. Funding for Sleigh’s residency came from the National Endowment for the Arts, Michel Roux/the Grand Marnier Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation.

Tom Sleigh’s talks and writing workshops involved SKC students, faculty, and students from two local high schools. Participating students and teachers each received a free copy of his book, The Chain, in preparation for the workshop.

“When my instructor Shannon Reilley announced that a published writer was coming to visit, I was surprised and excited,” said Melanie Strong, a 33-year-old mother of two and full-time SKC student. “He was just as excited to be in our class as I was to have him there. The whole visit was stimulating and I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to meet Tom Sleigh.”

To celebrate the author’s visit, SKC hosted a poetry reading at its new cultural center. The 25 men, women, and young people who attended were invited to read a poem or two of their own or favorite poems by other poets. The group formed a circle, and everyone participated by listening enthusiastically — and nearly everyone read poems. SKC English Instructor Woody Kipp also interviewed Sleigh on the college radio station.

“Everyone I met was hungry to talk, to tell you their story, to let you know what was important to them,” said Sleigh. “I felt that what I was doing really mattered in a deep way. The power of literature came through clearly in the poems that the students wrote and read aloud.” For more information, visit <www.nationalbook.org>.

Meg Kearney is the National Book Foundation’s associate director. 

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