Although a large part of the student body at Arizona State University Tempe vacated the premises leading to Labor Day weekend, there was a hum in the air at Labriola National American Indian Data Center. Spanning over several months, myself and Senior Program Coordinator Eric Hardy (Diné) set out on a venture to bring Chelsea T. Hicks (Osage), author of “A Calm and Normal Heart” to campus and host for our annual Open Mic. Our Open Mics are centered in Indigenous poetry spanning from diverse perspectives, however we encouraged community members from across the board to share their work. A number of Indigenous poets who read their work are well known in the valley and creative writing community. We had Taté Walker (Lakota citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota), a Two-Spirit storyteller and author of “The Trickster Riots”, Amber McCrary (Diné), a Zinester and author of “Electric Desert”, and Oscar Mancinas (Raramuri-Chicanx), poet and author of “To Live and Die in El Valle,” and Tracey Sekayumptewa (Hopi, Shawnee, Diné). To begin the night, Eric introduced everyone to the Labriola center, bringing awareness towards the importance of Indigenous literature and the continuance of our stories as Indigenous peoples. Libraries have historically been a space of erasure towards Indigenous knowledge, however the Labriola is challenging the stereotypes of libraries; that they in fact can be a source of community knowledge teeming with perspectives and insights from the BIPOC and Indigenous community.
Chelsea began our evening by introducing herself in her language, Wazhazhe ie (“Osage Talk”). She spoke on the importance of healthy relationships with each other and ourselves, especially in Native American communities. Chelsea invited me to be the first poet to read, and I was honored by her request. I write poetry because I love languages and how a language paints a picture in our minds and connects us back to feeling. To be living is to be feeling, always, and poetry captures that. At the event, I emphasized that it is so satisfying to be an Indigenous poet, a master of English words that was meant to assimilate and discourage us from pursuing degrees, communicating efficiently, and hinder us from speaking our Native tongues. However, this event proved otherwise: each poet brought voracity and voice into the Open Stacks at the Labriola Center where the event took place. Combined with the glow of Labriola’s Storytelling Table, it was empowering to hear Indigenous poets read and breathe life into the collection. Between each poet, there was ten minutes reserved for volunteers from the crowd who could read their work onstage, with mic in hand. Every volunteer spot was filled. One of Labriola’s student workers, Naatani Hanley-Moraga (Diné) is Mr. Indigenous ASU and performed an original rap. We even had an International student, who recently moved to the country, read some of her work and sought out Labriola’s Open Mic night, because she wanted to learn about Indigenous peoples.
The event was a hit, and I was so pleased and honored to have been a part of setting it up with the support of my coworkers at Labriola and the Indigenous creative writing community. I hope to provide more opportunities for the community to share and disperse their work, especially for upcoming poets. If you would like to purchase any of the poets’ work, please feel free to click on the links below:
Chelsea T. Hicks: A Calm and Normal Heart
Amber McCrary: Electric Deserts!
Oscar Mancinas: To Live and Die in El Valle
Taté Walker: Trickster Riots
- by Yitazba Largo-Anderson (Diné), Program Coordinator for Labriola National American Indian Data Center