Wind River Writers Read Poetry with Non-Indians

Aug 15th, 2007 | By | Category: 19-1: Tribal College Students Today, Tribal College News

L'DAWN OLSEN

PERSONAL POETRY. L'Dawn Olsen organized the poetry reading, saying "Our voices are never heard outside the insulated reservation community." Photo by Sara Wiles.

Wind River Tribal College sponsored its first open reading of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in the reservation border town of Lander, WY, last May. The event at the Open Door Café featured readings by 6 people from the local community and 15 students and faculty from the college, which is located 30 miles away in Ethete, WY.

The event was inspired by writing instructor L’Dawn Olsen (Shoshone). “Rarely are personal stories told within Native communities, and voices are never heard outside the insulated reservation community,” she says.

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, student Jean Harris (Shoshone) said that before she attended the tribal college, the only times her educators ever mentioned Indians were at the Boston Tea Party, as guides — like Sacagawea, and as “savage, war-mongers scalping innocent whites.”

She explained that she believed these “…lies and perpetuated them with self-hate and snobbery.” But after reading David Stannard’s American Holocaust and a long internal struggle, she says, “I am proud that I am American Indian and that the true accounts of the history of my Native people are finally being told.”

Ending her piece with a quote by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace prize winner and survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, her dark eyes looked directly at the audience, “The danger lies in forgetting. Forgetting, however, will not affect only the dead. Should it triumph, the ashes of yesterday will cover our hopes for tomorrow.”

Jean Yellowbear (Arapaho) read a story about her mother dying when she was four and her early days at St. Stephen’s boarding school.

Glenda Washakie (Arapaho) had a lighter theme, speaking of the love in the extended family of Indian tradition.

Hetty Brown (Arapaho) says, “I was soooo scared to get up there and read. I’m glad it’s over, and I’m glad I did it.” April Guina (Shoshone/Arapaho) calls her short story her “baby” because of the labor that went into creating it. Ronnie Moss (Cheyenne/ Arapaho), who read his poems in a rap beat, says, “It was a real opportunity.”

The response from both Indian and the local community has been favorable. The local public television station wants to broadcast a story about the next reading. Although the students were initially terrified to tell their deeply personal stories, they found the experience “gave them a dose of power,” Olsen says. She hopes to make the readings a bi-annual event.

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