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Bolstering public intellectualism as tribal writers

It is not news to most in academia that a wave of anti-intellectualism has pervaded the American public discourse for well over the last decade.

This is as troublesome to tribal scholars, academics and writers as it is to many others elsewhere in the American intellectual landscape, however, as we discussed during this year’s Oak Lake Writers’ Retreat, perhaps we take it a bit more seriously.

Since a good deal of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society’s mission is “to reaffirm our peoples’ political statuses,” we cannot allow ourselves as tribal citizens to be swept away in this tide of American anti-intellectualism that obscures and masks the facts, issues and problems of our time and that of a history that, as Elden Lawrence shared with us this year, we may not be responsible for, but are most assuredly, responsible to.

Several retreat participants had recently heard of an American scholar’s call for the reinstitution of the ‘public intellectual,’ as an antidote to this destructive force. [If any of our Oak Laker’s remember the person’s name and the media outlet that was referenced, please share in the comments.]

The public intellectual seems to have a shifting definition according to what has been written about it in the last couple of years, but overall it indicates a person of some higher (undergrad) or advanced (ph.d) education, a person of research, a person who applies themselves to the issues of their communities, and often writes materials that are accessible to the general public in which they see themselves a part of.

Since I can let you google this idea to your heart’s content, let me describe how this might shape up for a young member of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society, by sharing how I was deeply challenged and inspired by this idea.

As I write this early on Thursday morning of the retreat, I am actually soon heading my vehicle westward to home. Balancing the needs of my young family as I start a new position on Monday as editor of a weekly newspaper in the midst of Indian Country, I will be heading home with plenty of driving time to further consider this idea of the tribal public intellectual.

While the Oak Lake Writers’ Society is gifted with amazing academics from various disciplines, many of us are simply writers, journalists, poets and storytellers telling, caring and shaping narratives based in critical thinking and tribal knowledges.

I think for me, I always sought the way of learning and ‘well-roundedness’ in college. Add to that my desire for motherhood and other civic duty, and I think that we can begin to see a person aspiring to the most simple level of the public intellectual.

Even though citizenship by definition is an introduced colonial idea, it is still a form workeable and understandable to the average tribal member. Coming from the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, where relationships and defense of the people was well understood, we seek to continue that heritage.

For the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, commonly called the Sioux Nation, we must have those public intellectuals that can drive, stimulate and address the conversations needed for a robust, educated, thoughtful and active tribal citizenry.

While most of us express our citizenship as members of federally-recognized tribes scattered onto reservations across our original lands and lands that still should be ours according to treaty, those of us willing to begin these conversations in our communities, whether rez or off-rez, should begin aspiring to this idea of tribal public intellectual.

I am blessed with mentors who are academics, some who work elsewhere in the country, doing important research and work that better informs the lives of those of us back home. We need these people to continue to focus on their disciplines, and we need to show them a place to come home to, as well, when they weary of the American agnosia regarding tribal peoples–whether they return to us from California or the cities in our treaty lands filled with people who think they won the ‘Indian Wars.’

Then we can send them back out, the intellectual warriors that they are.

Some of our academics do return home, but in an effort to continue their work, must keep their nose to the grindstone of research and theory.

How then, given these very real realities of tribal academicians do we educate the average tribal citizen in those things most necessarily for self-governance, protection of our natural resources, etc., things certainly not taught in our high schools?

I truly believe that the answer can be found in the application of tribal writers and journalists to a life of the public intellectual. We need people who can digest the work of our academics in useful and applicable ways that encourage and inform our civilian lives and citizenship responsibilities.

So much understanding in tribal communities is an intuitiveness based in oral traditions and our relationship to place, while definining us as tribal people, must be built on if we are to engage those civic fields of battle that will protect the land, feed our children, preserve our cultures, re-engage our languages, care for our elders and our sick and defend our ceremonies and spiritual knowledge.

We are not unaccomplished peoples. If anything, many of us tribal members suffer as much from the lie of American exceptionalism as do many other Americans. Our best and brightest are encouraged to go away to college and then when they try to come home, they are not supported with jobs, vocations or even at times, simple acceptance.

Those families pushing their children to ‘succeed,’ are often as caught up in the idea of education as the ‘ticket’ to ‘making it’ financially. We might encourage them to serve the people in some way, but rarely is that way validated and shaped for all those who do not go away to college–children growing up, having children of their own, struggling with substandard living and wages and other issues.

If we do not support our young, educated tribal members, I am convinced we also do not support our young tribal members who do not leave their communities.

So, as an average person who has a knack for ideas and explaining ideas, mostly through writing, I am compelled by this idea of the public intectual. As a tribal member, mother, writer, journalist, newspaper editor, homemaker, etc., and overall generalist, I am very much interested in seeing more and more of our tribal academics’ works getting to tribal people via newspapers and other media, as well as critiques and reviews and other items that further challenge, shape and condition the tribal public discourse.

While much of media is talking heads and sheer ignorant stupidities on the part of the American public, my sincerest hope is that within even the next 10 years the same will not be said about communities of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate. That we can immediately begin bringing a greater depth to tribal newspapers and all newspapers in our treaty lands.

Recent protests and actions against large corporate expansions on our reservations have been met with brave protests by people, but more must be done. Bravery can take us only so far, but armed with the research, knowledge and statistics of our own tribal academics, we can begin to truly make some headway.

I am not a public intellectual, but I aspire to be.

In some ways, it is a great relief. I no longer have to feel guilty for not getting further in my education, for ‘failing’ to leave our treaty lands for success elsewhere, applying myself to academia, foregoing journalism for tenure, or worrying myself on how to juggle success and motherhood and family life.

I know that I am not alone in this…our ambitiousness as tribal people can be as much of a downfall in accomplishing meaningful community and family building work as too little ambition.

I am heading home today, to my sons’ reservation, a couple hundred miles north of where I am enrolled. It’s all treaty lands, it is all part of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, and while there’s a great deal of work to be done and questions to be asked, I am inspired and content to begin that work.

I truly hope more will join me. Mitakuye Oyasin.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn to speak at 44th Annual Dakota Conference to Discuss Wounded Knee

Oak Lake mentor, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn will speak on Friday, April 27 at 1:15. Her talk is entitled,”Dissent in Indian Country.” See the program for more details.
DATES: Friday, April 27, 2012 – Saturday, April 28, 2012
LOCATION: Center for Western Studies
TICKET INFO: Registration is $55.

EVENT DETAILS:The 44th-Annual Dakota Conference, “Wounded Knee 1973: Forty Years Later,” will be held at the Center for Western Studies on April 27-28. Approximately 80 presenters from as many as 15 states gather to present papers and participate in panels at this two-day national conference.

On display in conjunction with the Conference is the art exhibition “Interpretations of Wounded Knee 1973 and 1890,” a one-time show featuring the work of twenty-two artists.
A public reception will be held on Thursday, April 26, from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

On December 29, 1890, Miniconjou Lakota chief Spotted Elk (Big Foot) and 300 of his followers were attacked on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. Eighty-three years later, 200 Oglala Lakota seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee. In observance of the 40th anniversary of the occupation, the 2012 Dakota Conference will address questions related to Wounded Knee 1973, the 1890 massacre, as well as any and all aspects of Northern Plains American Indian history and culture.

For more information and a link to the program see the conference Web site.

Poet Mabel Picotte to read in Chamberlain SD Jan. 28

Oak Lake Writer, Mabel Picotte will be honored in Chamberlain for her writing and for winning the South Dakota Poetry Society Contest (see Jan 10 post below). If you’re in the area, please join Mabel and her community on Saturday, January 28th from 4:00pm to 5:30pm at The Meeting Place, 100 S. Main Street. Mabel will be the featured reader and will be followed by a (family oriented) open-mic.

This event is sponsored jointly by Acting for Justice and the Institute for Healing Racism. Acting for Justice is a theater group organized using the principles and techniques of Theater of the Oppressed. The Institute for Healing Racism is organized to heal the affects of racism and move beyond racism in the Chamberlain area. Members of both groups meet often for potluck meals and discussion on such topics as living organically and sustainably and forming a more understanding, creative, and peaceful community in Chamberlain.

Oak Lakers and others who are in the area, please come out and join Mabel and her local community for a night of poetry and great conversation.

Oak Lake Writers’ Society Call For Submissions!

The Oak lake Writers’ Society (OLWS) is looking for creative Dakota, Lakota and Nakota writers to submit original work for our upcoming anthology. We are looking for works that are related in some way to the Pipestone quarry in present-day southwestern Minnesota.

Catlin's painting of Pipestone

All submissions must be original work in the form of short story, poetry, essay, memoir or narrative. Both fiction and non-fiction are acceptable but must focus on thoughts, feelings, stories, policy or history surrounding the Pipestone quarry.  Please type submissions in Microsoft Word. Our anticipated date of publication is sometime in 2013, press to be announced.

Deadline & Contact
Submissions should be sent to no later than midnight on Sunday April 1, 2012. Questions are welcome and can be sent to our gmail account above.


End to a great weekend at the SD Festival of Books

I’m writing from Bully Blend’s Coffee & Tea in downtown Rapid City on a gray, pre-winter Sunday morning. About to catch a flight to Salt Lake City and then on to San Fran after a fascinating weekend back in the home state. Oak Lake Writers’ Web master Tasi Livermont and I, and our respective kids, Miles (10) and Carmen (9), bombed around the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood this past Friday and Saturday with other Oak Lake Writers.

Carmen & Tasi Livermont @ SD Festival of Books

Also on hand were co-editors of our new volume, He Sapa Woihanble (2011, Living Justice Press) Craig Howe, Lydia Whirlwind Soldier, and Lanniko Lee. Along with poet Mabel Picotte, they hosted a panel and audience discussion Friday on the book’s production process and its cultural politics. Saturday morning, I was M.C. for a poetry reading featuring Ronya Hoblit, Lanniko Lee, Mabel Picotte, Deanna Stands, and Lydia Whirlwind Soldier reading pieces from He Sapa Woihanble. Co-mentor Elizabeth Cook-Lynn also did a very polished, politicized, and humorous as always poetry reading and commentary to a packed room at the Deadwood Public Library yesterday afternoon. (Even Miles and Carmen paid close attention. Carmen asked questions about colonization afterwards. Yeah, that’s right.) Oak Lake annual retreat organizer and institution-builder, Dr. Chuck Woodard from South Dakota State University also joined us at the festival.

C. Howe, M. Picotte, T. Livermont, K. TallBear, L. Whirlwind Soldier

Despite the constant drizzle in Deadwood, the festival was well attended and we sold some books! Last night (Saturday, October 8), there was a buffalo feed and South Dakota Humanities Council awards ceremony in the airy, vaulted-ceiling upstairs function room of the Deadwood Mountain Grand Casino. Craig Howe won an award for contributions to the humanities in South Dakota. Tasi was on hand to take photographs and will post them soon.

Time to hit the road. Almost finished with a large coffee with shot of espresso. If you’re ever in town Bully Blends roasts their own, Fair Trade. They’re at 908 Main Street, and they open early.

The Lakota Way: then and now. Understanding American Indian history and culture

Craig Howe

On Thursday, September 22nd at 4:30 p.m. there will be a special presentation at the Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place on Highway 1806 north. The South Dakota Humanities Council is sponsoring a panel discussion to promote this year’s central theme of American Indian cultures. The Lakota Way will be presented from several different perspectives.

The program will feature Oak Lake Writers’ Society member, Dr. Craig Howe, Martin, director of the Center of American Indian Research and Native Studies, who will speak as an historian.

Other speakers include Belinda Joe, Crazy Horse, Culture-Education Specialist for the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, who will present storytelling. Donovin Sprague, Rapid City, author of several books, will give a writer’s view; and, Sandy Swallow, Hill City, will share the artist’s perspective. Ann Campbell, moderator for the panel discussion, will encourage the audience to participate with questions for the panelists.

Refreshments will be served. American State Bank and BankWest have contributed to make this event free and open to the public. Following the panel discussion event, there will be a traditional bison feed for the public, hosted by Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, at the Buffalo Interpretive Center at 6 p.m. The Center is located on the Native American Scenic Byway (Highway 1806 south off Hwy 83) about 6 miles from Fort Pierre. Florentine Blue Thunder of Lower Brule will present a program on Lakota use of and relationship with the buffalo.

This is an opportunity for the community to participate in the South Dakota Humanities Council’s mission of supporting and promoting the exchange of ideas to foster a thoughtful and engaged society.

The goal of the South Dakota Humanities Council is to provide a bedrock of understanding and civility over cultural issues pertaining to our state and its history.

Oak Lake Writers at the South Dakota Festival of Books (Oct 7-9)

If you’re attending the South Dakota Festival of Booksin Deadwood, October 7-9, please come on by the Oak Lake Writers’ two events:

Oak Lake Writers' Society Reading

Friday October 7: 3:00 – 4:30 PM ~ SPECIAL EVENT – Deadwood Pavlion/Chamber of Commerce, He Sapa Woihanble: Black Hills Dream Book Release: Editor Craig Howe will host a conversation about the Oak Lake Writer’s new publication.
Saturday October 8: 9:00 – 9:45 AM – Deadwood Elementary Gymnasium, The Oak Lake Writers will do a reading of poetry and prose.

Stay tuned. We’ll post more information about these two events as soon as our organizers get it to us.