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Telling stories from inside the tipi

The Juste family church tipi has been in service, helping heal the Salt River Gila community, for over 25 years.

“This tipi has a real history. A lot of people have received a lot of help,” says ASU’s Henry Quintero. “Its scars tell a story of this community and what it’s been through, and our perseverance.”

That history made its way to Arizona State University last week, when the church tipi was set up on the Tempe campus, by church roadman Glen Juste, himself, for the 10th annual Simon Ortiz RED INK Indigenous Speaker Series, formerly known as the Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community.

The new name follows its new director, Quintero, an assistant professor in the Department of English and the editor of RED INK, an International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts & Humanities. The journal is just one part of a larger initiative by the same name to enhance access to higher education for Indigenous communities, as well as global access to Indigenous creative and intellectual expression and discourse among Native and non-Native communities on Indigenous issues.

“RED INK is great, and it’s here to stay,” says Quintero, who is affiliated with American Indian Studies. “Part of what’s here to stay is sharing a kind of creative beauty that is intrinsically woven into Indigenous people’s lives.”

How we understand our stories and the relationships around us underscored this year's speaker series, which included a demonstration and talk on "Indigenous Epistemologies of Sustainable Geometries: Stories of the Cradleboard and Tipi" and a discussion of the development of the Native American Church and the tipi's evolution alongside.

Storytellers included Juste (Gila River Tohono O'odham), Sarita and Mac Nosie (White Mountain Apache), and Ksaws Brooks (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation).

The annual series, now a decade old and sponsored by ASU Library’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center – home to thousands of books, journals, Native Nation newspapers and primary source materials, such as photographs, oral histories and manuscript collections – "seeks to create and celebrate knowledge that evolves from an inclusive Indigenous worldview and is applicable to all walks of life."

It has featured such speakers as Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Peterson Zah (Navajo), Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee) and last year’s Myron Dewey (Newe-Numah/Paiute-Shoshone).

Quintero sees the series as an act of decolonization, passed down to him by his predecessor and mentor Simon J. Ortiz, an ASU Regents' Professor, who donated his personal papers to the Labriola Center in 2013.

“It’s a testament to the Labriola’s family commitment to Indigenous people and the understanding that Indigenous people have a philosophy and voice as well as the ability to share and integrate our incredibly valuable knowledge,” he says. 

Ortiz encouraged Quintero to share his knowledge about Indigenous plant medicine and the Native American Church back when Quintero was a graduate student at ASU. 

“He said, ‘you've got to write about this,’” recalls Quintero, who now researches Native American Church music, better known as “peyote music.”

“Peyote music is a philosophical, musical and literary system that dates back older than any of the Abrahamic traditions, and belongs to a larger tradition of indigenous plant medicines that we utilize to navigate the human experience,” says Quintero. “It’s like any other glorious representation of everything in our human experience. It’s a way of understanding interrelations with what’s around us – our earth, our families, other human beings.”

In peyote ceremonies, the tipi plays a foundational role, from the way its constructed to the stories that are embedded and the relationships interwoven.

“Anyone can take a pill, anyone can take a drug,” Quintero says. “When it truly becomes a medicine, from an Indigenous perspective, is when it integrates with your life, beliefs and culture. In this way, the tipi is a kind of ‘cultural container,’ a way of utilizing time, place and space with plant medicines to facilitate the best outcome."

Traditional teachings around Indigenous culture, the tipi and the cradleboard, a protective baby carrier, were all part of the spring speaker series events. Through these valuable teachings and new avenues of scholarship, Quintero says we begin to understand this time and space we’re living in now, differently.

"ASU is the place for RED INK and for Indigenous studies," he says. "Many Indigenous scholars see President Crow's commitment to the 2020 initiative as active decolonization for the benefit of the ASU and international community, but also, in a larger sense, as being the innovation that changes everything in that gentle, good way."