Verbal Prowess on Display at Poetry Slam

May 1st, 2014 | By | Category: 25-4: Nation Building
By Rachael Marchbanks

The spoken word is powerful. It has the ability to inspire, heal, and bring us closer together. At the first annual TCJ-AIHEC poetry slam this March, 28 tribal college students wielded their verbal prowess in front of a mesmerized audience of more than 300 people. Delivering captivating stories of birth, love, cultural identity, and tragedy, the performers led their audience on a journey of many lifetimes in just two hours.

Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College student Will Strongheart moved the crowd to cheers and tears while passionately acting out his prose. “Native life is hard, but dying is easy. We used to die from battles, but now we die from battling diabetes. We used to die for the people, but now we die from the needle,” he said. Vicki Alberts of Fort Berthold Community College expressed frustrations of stereotypes, constructed identities, and Western bureaucracies. “I am so sick of trying to prove to the government who I am by showing them my tribal ID which shows that I am 57/64 Native American. But obviously they have not seen me because I am 100% Native woman,” she exclaimed as the crowd whooped in agreement.

The poetry slam kicked off the 33rd annual AIHEC student conference. Attracting more than 1,000 tribal college and university (TCU) students, faculty, staff, and supporters, the conference is a must-see event as related by Ryan Winn in his March online column. Each year, students from the 38 TCUs test their skills and knowledge, competing in traditional games, science, business, theater, film, and more. Despite (or perhaps because of ) the competition, students find camaraderie and solidarity in their opponents.

Keynote speaker and former NFL player, Tuff Harrison (Crow/ Northern Cheyenne), delivered an encouraging message to the students the first morning of the conference. Speaking of his own trials and tribulations, he reiterated how the power of words can help a person succeed or fail. “Listen to what you’re saying. Your tongue is a rudder. It can make or destroy your path. If you fail, let your language change it to ‘I can and I will.’” The students at the conference, in spite of their own obstacles in life, embodied this “can-do” attitude and will undoubtedly continue to challenge themselves and their peers to succeed at their chosen life’s course.

To see the poetry slam in its entirety, visit the poetry link at

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