Tribal College Students Writing Featured

Aug 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 12-1: Celebrating Our Students
By Marjane Ambler

At the request of our readers, we are once again bringing you a special issue featuring creative writing by tribal college students. To do this, we have dispensed with some of our usual format. As subscribers know, each issue of the journal usually provides scholarly research and book reviews. This time, we have omitted some of our regular material to make room for the Tribal College Student.


JAY LABERThree years ago, Jay Laber walked into Salish Kootenai College to take reading and writing classes. Although he had graduated from high school while living temporarily in New Hampshire, he could not read. To give him more time for his English and math classes, he chose an art class to fill some extra credit hours.

This year, Jay, 38, bought his first home with the money he has earned as an artist. His life has been transformed. The warrior who appears on the cover is one of a series that he has sculpted, welding used auto parts.

Laber, a Blackfeet, first became known for transforming junk into art by creating “Reborn Reservation Wrecks.” This bigger-than-life bison sculpture won People’s Choice at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s annual conference in Billings, Mont., in 1999. A museum in Germany later purchased the bison. His first recycled warrior (pictured on the cover) was purchased by his art instructor, Corwin “Corky” Clairmont, who is himself an internationally famous artist. The German museum displayed four pieces by Clairmont in its 1999 exhibition, “Indian Reality Today.”

As with any artist, Laber’s life is reflected in his art. When he was one year old, his family home on the Blackfeet Reservation was lost in a flood, and his family moved to New Hampshire. After graduating, he worked as a carpenter and construction worker. Last year, he began his biggest work to date: eight life-size warriors on horseback constructed out of flood cars. The cars had been lying along river banks on the reservation since the 1963 flood that destroyed his home.

With assistance from the Montana Arts Council, the Blackfeet Tribal Council commissioned Laber to build a pair of warriors on horseback for each of the four entrances to the tribal capital, Browning, Mont. Laber constructed the horsemen’s staffs out of old sickle bars and their hair out of discarded barbed wire and cable. The tribe hopes the sculptures will capture the attention of tourists who usually rush through the windy, dusty town on the way to Glacier National Park. “I wanted to do something for the Blackfeet people,” Laber said.

Laber continues to study art at Salish Kootenai College, and he also teaches sandblasting (glass etching and rock etching). He is grateful to the tribal college for changing his life, including his math teacher who helped him overcome his fears of math. “You don’t even have to raise your hand. They can see by your facial expression if something is wrong. If I had been at a bigger school, I would have disappeared within the first few days,” he said.

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