Tag Archives: writing

Dear J.K. Rowling: Wakanyeja Video Response to History of #MagicinNorthAmerica

When J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America launched last week, many Indigenous fans like me were crushed.

Read my initial response here. Then be sure to check out Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, which has a nice roundup of Indigenous criticisms to Rowling’s phoned-in, bare-minimum, stereotypical depictions of Native wizards.

Since then, I’ve been asked to discuss my views specifically as a fan and Native mother. Check out my interviews with The Humanist, Native America Calling, NowThis and local newspapers.

But the most important interview I’ve done is with my daughter, Mimi. She’s 7 years old (well, 7-in-a-half!) and the light of my life. We tag team the Harry Potter fandom in our house. We’re reading the books together (again – this time around she helps read and instead of the paperbacks, we downloaded all of the illustrated iPad versions) and try to get a least an hour of book time in a few times per week.

Last week she jumped into bed, eagerly awaiting Chapter 10 in The Order of the Phoenix and I gave her the bad news (honestly – I’m too stressed to read HP now, a series that used to function as a comforting safe space to escape to when the real world was too much to mess with #microaggressionsFTW). I read Rowling’s first post to Mimi. After I finished, Mimi said, “What else?” She meant, what else did Rowling write? Where was the rest of it? I said, “That’s it.” Rightfully, Mimi was angry Natives rated just a few short paragraphs when things like snakes, tournament trophies and horcruxes get fully-realized story arcs. I also explained how some people were mad that Rowling was equating medicine people to mythical fantasy (code for medicine people aren’t real) and was taking stories that didn’t belong to her. Mimi: “Like land?” I could only snap.

Mimi is smart. She gets it without me having to lead her to conclusions. I’ve never done more than present her with (basic, age-appropriate) facts. With those, she’s given testimony at legislative hearings regarding mascots, marched in protests, advocated for survivors of domestic violence and has generally let her heart lead her. I can’t take credit for it; aside from giving her the information and space to process ideas and concepts like racism and sexism on her own, I’ve pretty much let her choose her own adventure.

The other day Mimi asked if maybe Rowling “just doesn’t know” about Native Americans and perhaps it would benefit the author and her legions of fans if she (Mimi) threw down some wakanyeja knowledge (I am constantly telling her the importance of speaking up as a young person – wakanyeja is a word often used for child in Lakota, but it literally translates to spirit being). On one hand, this made me even angrier at Rowling: In one of our conversations about this issue, Mimi equated Rowling to Columbus (the land bit), but where she wouldn’t give Columbus or his supporters any kind of excuse, she loves the world of Harry Potter so much she believes the author deserves a chance at redemption. How dare Rowling do this to my kid (I mean, anyone who has been or works with victims of abuse knows cyclical behavior begins with excusing the abuser #SheDidntMeanIt)! But… On the other hand, I was pumped: As someone who often functions in the realm of digital storytelling, you can imagine my elation to hear Mimi wanted to make a video letter to Rowling.

Remember: “IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF COURAGE TO STAND UP TO YOUR ENEMIES, BUT EVEN MORE TO STAND UP TO YOUR FRIENDS.” — Dumbledore (and we’re going to hope JK Rowling is a friend)

The video is 15 minutes long (yikes, I know). And, you guys, this is all ad-libbed. Obviously, we’ve talked about this a few times, but mostly we’re just riffing off each other (and tbh, I nearly cried a few times at the powerful words Mimi spoke). I thought about cutting it down into a digestible 3-minute trailer so more people would watch it, but the uncut, undiluted, stream-of-consciousness discussion that happens is, in a word, magical. It demands to be watched in full.

You can feel Mimi’s anger and frustration at Rowling, witness her obvious passion for her culture (and OMG you can’t imagine how it feels to know she actually retains what her father and I tell her about her heritage!), and recognize the desperation in her voice to simply be heard. Our hope in making this video is that J.K. Rowling will edit/redo her Fantastic Beasts promos and screenwriting. Native people – and fans worldwide – deserve better than what Rowling has offered. Mimi has some truly fantastic ideas on how to incorporate Native characters into magic (historical AND contemporary) and I’m working with some great (and busy) minds to try and recreate Rowling’s HOMINA into something both entertaining and respectful. Yes! It can be done!

But first, Rowling needs to listen. Start here:

 

Kopkind: A Love Story

I spent last week cut off from most of the world in rural, southern Vermont. No cell service, the weakest of Internet connections, and a “courtesy flush” septic system.

It was glorious.

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Sunset on Kopkind

I’m a big fan of mandatory adult timeouts. I try to implement time away from technology – social media, specifically – at least every few months (or when the news cycle or my timelines become too triggering) for self-care purposes.

Last week I had the honor and privilege to experience Kopkind, a timeout with strangers who would become amazing friends. It was set up like how I imagine lots of movie-worthy youth camps are set up: Scheduled learning, shared chore duties, organized fun, fires and games, and reconnection with the Earth. And lots of bugs.

The Kopkind Colony is an educational summer residency program for nonpartisan, independent journalists and community organizers. When he died, in 1994, Andrew Kopkind was eulogized as one of the great journalists of his generation, a man who, in America’s leading magazines, brought high literary style and intimate acquaintance with the dynamic political and cultural life of his time to the service of reportage and analysis. The Kopkind Colony, started by his family, friends and colleagues as a living memorial, is based at Tree Frog Farm in Guilford, Vermont, where Kopkind did much of his writing and where his archives are housed. The project honors Kopkind’s legacy by bringing together young reporters interested in making sense of the world around them and young people engaged in the political life of their communities for seminars, skill-honing sessions and lectures with established writers and political activists. It emphasizes inquiry and exchange on a range of social as well as professional issues, and a broadening of knowledge based on an understanding of history and a sensitivity to the experiences of others. At a time of increasing compartmentalization and the decline of formal mentorship in American journalism, it fosters collaboration–with focused programs designed to create a colloquy between professional and apprentice, young and old, rural and urban, with special attention to racial and gender diversity.     – The Kopkind Mission

There’s a lot to that mission statement. But it’s all of that magic and more. I applied to the fellowship without really knowing much beyond this mission (I wasn’t a little put off by the use of the word “colony,” but totally sold on the idea that journalism can and should mean active participation in the world – more on that later). Someone I know and admire posted a general Facebook post encouraging folks to apply. My unending thanks to this person. You know who you are ❤

Really, I couldn't get enough of the view.
Really, I couldn’t get enough of the view.

The theme this year was “Freedom to Be.” My cohorts – now hunka (chosen family) to me – came from a variety of activism backgrounds: José works tirelessly in Chicago for the rights of day laborers and domestic workers; Aaron is an elementary teacher in all ways that title does no justice to describe the commitment of those who don’t see their role as simply a profession; Tashira is a lawyer and wordsmith who champions the causes of marginalized youth and families; Chuck is a writer and filmmaker who uses the media to give voice to the voiceless and as a mirror to force the privileged few to see that which they are blind to; Anna is a freelancer kicking the shit out of the journalism world with her prose and passion; Joel is a poet of both words and action and his care for the lives and stories of NYC’s youth and families makes lives better; and Renee fights daily to ensure access to quality reproductive health care is available to those who seek it.

Apparently this beetle is an invasive species. But it looks SO pretty!
Apparently this beetle is an invasive species. But it looks SO pretty!

Our mentors in this endeavor were Angela Ards and Darnell Moore, whom I’d need another blog post to describe what their leadership meant to me over the course of a week.

Much of our discussion last week centered on the Black Lives Matter movement, how it relates to us, and why we need to care for each other – not just in a solidarity sense, although that for sure is a must – in order to continue the work we do. Too often, our self care is solitary and framed upon our desires to make the world better. As many of us discovered, however, taking time to breathe, to connect with the land and with each other, makes us more powerful than we’d ever be without these essential elements of movement work.

One of our swimming holes.
One of our swimming holes.

Outside of the amazing bonds we formed, my greatest takeaway was that the work I do to uplift and center indigenous voices is important, valued, and desperately needed, because it is intricately tied to the greater efforts of Justice Work. 

I entered journalism with the idea that I could do a better job than most at presenting indigenous stories fairly and accurately (or, you know, at all). My training while a participant of the Freedom Forum‘s now retired American Indian Journalism Institute, as well as with the student projects of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity and the Native American Journalists Association always always always focused on ethics, that we as journalists should do everything we could to remove ourselves from the human equation in order to avoid any semblance of biased behaviors or perspectives.

I vividly recall the discussion one of my favorite mentors held in which she described how she was not a registered voter, because she didn’t want her public voting record to be used against her as she reported on legislative affairs. She also didn’t serve on boards or volunteer. She still doesn’t do much by way of social media likes and shares. I should add here that this mentor in no way decreed her ways be adopted by the masses, but her words impacted me greatly. Also, this was more than 10 years ago.

But as I developed my reporting skills, I held firm this concept. Then, in 2008, I began working within the social services and education spectrums, and it became clear to me that this way of thinking was apathetic in the most harmful of ways. My disengagement from community involvement was an affront to very real cultural values of my Lakota people, and worked to silence the same people I was hoping to represent fairly and accurately. It took many years, but I began asking myself, “Why should I be fair to racists, or homophobics, or transphobics, or misogynists, or ableists, or white saviors, or anti-choicers, or any other person who lives to oppress others?” Hate isn’t a “viewpoint” to give equal news space to, and as a journalist I find the best good I can do is write about ways to end oppression or stories that bring hope, voice, and justice to indigenous endeavors.

I shared all these things and more with those at Kopkind. My work and writing and passions received verbal praise, sure, but more than this were the snaps, head nods, and hugs, physical kudos that reverberated through my being. And I was validated. I will be ever-thankful and humbled by this generosity.

To commemorate the week, I was commissioned to create a video testimonial of the Kopkind retreat and its impact. It’s not meant to be a marketing product (it’s nearly 20 minutes long), but something to encapsulate what we we all felt and will bring with us as we move forward with our work and lives.

 


 

Kopkind1

 

Submit Your Application for the Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer Award

The Great Plains Writers’ Conference, in cooperation with South Dakota State University’s American Indian Studies Program and American Indian Education and Cultural Center, sponsors an annual award – The Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer – to encourage tribal writers in the early phases of their writing lives and to honor those of extraordinary merit and promise.

Learn about our 2014 winner, Marcus Bear Eagle of Chadron, NE.
Learn about our 2013 winner, Taté Walker of Sioux Falls, SD.

The 2015 winner, judged by the SDSU English Department, AIS and AIECC, will receive an award of $500 and be invited to read at the Great Plains Writers’ Conference at SDSU, in March, 2015.

WHO CAN SUBMIT: Tribally-enrolled writers from the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota who have not yet published a book of creative writing.

WORK ACCEPTED: Fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, or the screenplay (20 double-spaced pages maximum) or poetry (15 pages maximum).

LOGISTICS: Send materials to arrive by January 15, 2015 to Emerging Tribal Writers Award, English Department, South Dakota State University, Pugsley Center 301/Campus Box 2218, Brookings, SD 57007. 

There is no entry fee. Finalists will be asked to demonstrate tribal enrollment to the AIS and AIECC.  More details are available at https://greatplainswritersconference.wordpress.com/awards/great-plains-emerging-tribal-writer-award-submission-guidelines/

For queries or to submit electronically, email April Myrick at april.myrick@sdstate.edu.


 

Blogger’s Note: As described above, I won the inaugural award back in 2013. You can read the winning submission here. This is a great opportunity for Great Plains indigenous writers to not only to get published and share your work, but also to attend a great conference of other (indigenous) writers. I got to meet the son of Vine Deloria, Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Craig Howe, who founded CAIRNS. It was an amazing experience and truly inspirational.

#winning Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer Award

Pretty jazzed to announce the birth of my fictional writing career. The story I submitted to the Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer Award was chosen as the winner. (If you’re interested, the story is HERE, buried within the previous post to this blog.) I’ll get $500 and read at the Great Plains Writers’ Conference March 24-26 (so you should plan to attend!). I may or may not get a free hotel room #thiscouldgetepic

I’m also getting a whole lot of self-respect. I’m not a vain person, but it’s one thing to blog for the benefit of, like, 10 consistent readers (hi Mom!), and quite another to be told, by a committee of academic reviewers and published writers that your stuff is legit. I’ll probably buy a lottery ticket to see if the luck holds up.

My eyebrows are way up. I must be super-pumped.
My eyebrows are way up. I must be super-pumped.

Of course, the cradle Catholic in me tends to think this is all a hoax, that my past sins are such that I deserve no recognition. I have this nagging suspicion I was chosen as the winner because I was the only submission. I mean, the deadline was extended and rules changed as the first deadline approached. A couple folks had to tell me “submit! submit!” before I actually considered doing so. And even then, I waited – like the true former newspaperman I am – until the absolute very last minute to turn in my piece. Via email, even though the rules requested mailed submissions. So there’s that…

But I’m going for ignorant bliss. It’s been a while since I’ve felt recognized for any supposed talents. I’m not vain, no, but I’m no humblebrag, either. I know I’ve got a lot to offer this world, dammit 😀 I enjoy writing, although I know it could use a lot of editing. I just need to be better at marketing myself. And that means using this opportunity for everything it’s worth.