Of Innocence and Catharsis

Aug 15th, 1999 | By | Category: Student 1999
By Marjane Ambler

These are not the words of innocents. Don’t expect to find sweet love poems in this collection of writing by college students. The tribal college students write here about war and race, alcoholism and child abuse, death, humility and the challenges of raising children with special needs. The students have traveled many highways, and their writing reflects that rather than the protected lives of middle class students on ivy covered campuses. Jimmy Hallum’s childhood memories start with the Bugs Bunny show, but where did that innocence go? Jody Barnes’ story about a Vietnam veteran will rip your heart out.

At the same time, they provide liberal doses of humor in unexpected places as in James DeMarrias’s story about an old warrior. James makes his warrior human, not a noble savage: his wife ignores him when he rambles, and his nephews laugh at him. Readers benefit from an insider’s glimpse at reservation life and traditions, not the stereotypical portraits too often painted by outsiders. Tanya Sue Walter explains the importance of ceremonies and dancing, saying they make her feel strong, alive, and good inside. Some of their stories deal with standard college student subjects—how to resist peer pressure and their search for identity. Yet their treatment of these themes was shaped by life in their tribal communities. Roger White Owl’s poem asks, “Who am I?” as he sorts through gangster rap stars, Latin gangs, and tales of his ancestors.

In her research paper about the elderly on the Fort Belknap Reservation, Audrey Cochran demonstrates the qualities of a good researcher, applying her academic readings to her deeper, personal understanding of the “soul wounds” of her people. By finding new words to describe the problems, she evidently can externalize them more easily. Others find different ways of integrating their academic and their personal lives. Vanessa Jones uses fiction to celebrate her own sobriety while inspiring children to choose sobriety and the strength and courage of their ancestors. A mother of six, Elaine Bildeau has found that her interests in computers and in writing provide a good way for her to spend time with her children, who share her love for computers. The essays, short stories, poems, and research in this edition were selected from over 100 entries submitted by the students and their instructors. Most are by college freshmen or sophomores, some of whom had never written a poem or a short story until they entered these classrooms. Some of their expressions lack the subtleties they will later learn as their finesse grows.

With the direction of their instructors, they are experimenting with different styles and techniques. Michael Jackson’s poem, “Crazy,” demonstrates a successful experiment. Others don’t work as well, but as they take such risks, they develop their talent. Their instructors are nudging them to find their own voices and helping them to find publishers. We’re grateful to these writing instructors and other mentors who encouraged the students to submit and helped with the logistics of gathering their photos and biographical information.

Like good writers anywhere, they touch universal themes. Turning their experiences into poetry and short stories, they use the creative medium as their catharsis, purging their lives of pain to enable them to focus upon the future. This collection gives a glimpse of their dreams. Liz Hopkins wants to start a cultural resource management consulting firm. At the age of 40, Jimmy Hallum plans to teach Indian studies. Roger D. White Owl wants to be a lawyer and Shane Hamilton an aerospace engineer. Steven Vert and Jody Barnes plan to be writers. Wade Wiartalla and Miranda Burland are aiming at masters degrees. Many strive to earn teaching degrees and teach on their reservations.

In mainstream communities, outside of ghettos and reservations, such dreams might be unremarkable. Yet some of these students are the first in their families to graduate from high school; many more are first generation college students. Few have ever had an Indian teacher until they arrived at the tribal college. For them, the dreams themselves are miracles.


Introduction: Of Innocence and Catharsis By Marjane Ambler
Poverty Among Native American Elders By Audrey Cochran
Crazy By Michael Jackman
Education for the 21st Century: My Role By Bobbie Fetter
The Best Decision I Ever Made By Tanya Walter
The Cave By Juanita Snell
The Old Man’s Dream By James DeMarrias
A Spiritual Awakening By Vanessa Jones
Running for My Father’s Love By Shane Hamilton
College is an Opportunity By Miranda Burland
Adopting the Creative By Wade Wiartalla
Saige By Stacy Atkinson
Smoking Pop Cans By David Hill
More Than a Shadow By Elaine Bildeau
Who Am I? By Roger White Owl
Sunday Afternoon By Jody Barnes
A Ride of Life By Ober John
I Am By Steven Vert
Eagle By Kevin Baker
Neshnebek Game By Daniel Dyer
The Holy Bottle By Daniel Dyer
Brother By Jimmy Hallum
Rez Dogs By Jimmy Hallum
Pedaling Circles By Tina Kingren
Through Glass By Liz Hopkins
Same-Same By Jody Barnes

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