Grounding Creative Practice in Cultural Continuity
September 28, 2022

Grounding Creative Practice in Cultural Continuity

In September’s Collective Spirit newsletter we hear from Associate Director of Youth Development, Autumn White Eyes (Oglala Lakota, White Earth Anishinaabe), on the most recent cohort of Emerging Poet Fellows. In this piece, Autumn shares the impact of the Emerging Poet Fellowship on the youth participants and how this work informs their current and future prospects in their community and beyond.


This summer, Dances with Words (DWW), First Peoples Fund’s (FPF) spoken-word Youth Development initiative, hosted the second year of the Emerging Poets Fellowship. The Fellowship is an opportunity for young people to take their writing and artist development to new heights and refinement. After taking a year off from offering the fellowship to focus on providing virtual DWW workshops during the ongoing pandemic, FPF was able to offer the fellowship at the new Oglala Lakota Artspace once there was a low number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

Youth Poets participated in the 8- week fellowship centered on an advanced poetry curriculum and professional artist development. The poetry curriculum was developed by Oglala Lakota poets and educators Layli Long Soldier, Autumn White Eyes, and Helen Thomas. Through the course of the fellowship, youth met three times a week with their mentors in Kyle, SD, and Rapid City, SD. They read and discussed a variety of poets such as Joy Harjo, Orlando White, Haryette Mullen, Simon Ortiz, and a variety of forms of poetry including found poetry, erasure poems, prose, dadaist, public art poetry, and using the white space on the page. The poets also attended a professional development workshop each day which included learning skills such as writing an artist bio and resume, creating budgets, and pricing their work.

Among the fellows were Omaka Nawicakincinji Mendoza (He/Him, Oglala & Sicangu Lakota, 13 years old) and Charlize Pourier (She/They, Oglala Lakota, 18 years old).  

““I am a poet in so-called Rapid City, SD who strives to include aspects of life into my work whether it being political or just capturing nature in my art. I have participated in the Dances with Words program and emerging poets fellowship and I strive to learn as much as I can and broaden my mind in all aspects of life.”

— Omaka Nawicakincinji Mendoza

Charlize Pourier (Oglala Lakota) Her Red People Woman is eighteen years old. She lives on Pine Ridge rez and is a Senior at Red Cloud High School. She writes poetry to express her personal experiences and to shed light on the casual abuse in Native Women and Children within their community and outside.

““One thing that i really enjoy about the fellowship program was the people who were part of it. They all treated me with so much kindness and helped me improve my writing. I’m glad to be able to meet these amazing people and be part of this community”

— Charlize Pourier

Youth worked on developing poetry anthologies and culminating the fellowship with creating their own chapbooks (short books of poetry) and planning a poetry reading for their community.

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1. Charlize Pourier & Omaka Mendoza 2. Mike Pattin, Omaka Mendoza, & Charlize Pourier. Courtesy of First Peoples Fund

Omaka read selected poems from his chapbook, “Red Word, and Charlize read poems from her chapbook, “Red Woman.” Audience members included family, friends, and community members. The poetry reading ended with an open-mic and local youth poets also performed selected poems. Through the course of the fellowship, both Omaka and Charlize grew exponentially in their craft and performance.

Autumn White Eyes, the Associate Director of Youth Development says, “One of the most rewarding parts of the fellowship was seeing the ways in which the youth would connect their poetry back to societal and political issues and engage in discussion on these issues. One of the goals of our programs is to assist youth in becoming engaged members of society and in seeing them connect and writing poetry about issues impacting their lives was truly inspirational and shows the power of artistic expression for Native youth speaking their truth.”

Over the course of the summer, the fellows were also heavily involved in the planning of Wooyake Theca Oyate Festival (Youth Storytellers Festival) and selecting the theme, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Relatives. This October 7-10, 2022 Oceti Sakowin (SD, ND, MN) Indigenous youth artists will gather at the Oglala Lakota Artspace to attend poetry, music, and mural-creating workshops with featured artists, Tusweca Mendoza, Michael Patton, Kinsale Drake, Talon Bazille Ducheneaux, and Terrance Jade.


By Charlize Pourier

The color red is associated with war, wealth, power, aggression, the fires of Hell.

Is that what they saw in me?

With their white marble skin and cheap gold crosses

An aggressive, red indian

Is that what they hoped for me if i didn’t bend and knee to kiss their feet?

The color red is an symbols of energy, passion, strength, love, warmth, and beauty

Is that what my mom saw in me?

With her warm red hands holding mine

She saw beauty in my skin and passion in my eyes, strength in my words and love on my lips

Is that what she hoped for me?

To be loving, warm, and passionate red beauty??


To be red is to be a determined person who refused to be pushed over by the white

To be red is to be powerful being that scares the color out of their marble skin

To be red is to melt the cheap gold to make beautiful earrings that speak when they move

To be red is being myself


By Omaka Mendoza

The bugle that the elk makes in the hills carries down to rapid hitting me like a hard wind it makes me want to take our lands back and give them a place to thrive I want tatanka to be left alone without being pet like a dog by aliens to my homeland I want our people to drop the bottles and be warriors not for themselves but for the people I want us to have land where we don't have to worry that in the future they might be bulldozed for profit over people we should not have to make sure to not have our hands in our pockets when we go into the store or having our hood up because we look suspicious. I want to have a place where elders are laughing and telling stories and have children playing running around and have hunters return with a good hunt…it stops and I snap out of it, Omaka! Come here we need to finish.

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