Pȟéta Woglakapi
January 20, 2022

Pȟéta Woglakapi

(They Speak Fire)

In December 2021, young people gathered at the 44th Annual Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) across the Great Plains to compete in sports, arts, and cultural activities.

And First Peoples Fund’s Dances with Words program sponsored a day-long poetry event that included an artist workshop, a poetry slam, and an open-mic for youth poets.

The event was emceed by award-winning actor Zahn McClarnon (Lakota), who has appeared in over 80 film and television productions, including the groundbreaking FX series Reservation Dogs and the Disney+ series Hawkeye. McClarnon facilitated an artist workshop and offered career advice for future performers and actors.

At the poetry slam (a competition where poets perform spoken-word poetry in front of an audience and judges), eight youth poets performed 3-minute poems, followed by a lightning round consisting of 90-second poems. Poem topics ranged from climate change and protecting Mother Earth, to mental health advocacy, and social movements for the Lakota language and for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women/Relatives, also known as MMIW/R.

"Hearing the youth share their stories out loud with the community was truly inspiring,” says Autumn White Eyes (Oglala Lakota, Turtle Mountain Band of Anishinaabe), Youth Development Program Manager at First Peoples Fund.  “Sharing their stories on stage is a truly vulnerable action, so I was so proud of their bravery and willingness to share.”

The judge panel included community members Tiarra Little, Peter Strong, and Eleanor Ferguson, while musician and DJ Zuya Lakota Rapper, also known as Almadon Swalley, performed original music.

The winning poets were Jaxsyn Claymore from Rapid City Schools, Charlize Pourier from Red Cloud High School, and Antonio Rojos from Little Wound High School. Additionally, excellence awards in categories such as best performance, melancholy and emotional content, and Native pride were presented.

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1. Actor Zahn McClarnon (Lakota) leads a youth workshop. Photo provided by Autumn White Eyes. 2. A poem by Frankie Miner

“I loved being a part of the LNI Poetry Slam,” says Frankie Miner, a Lakota poet from Cheyenne River Eagle Butte.  “I appreciate being presented with the Meadowlark Award” that honors excellence in engaging the audience’s emotions. “We have a lot of meadowlarks where I live and they remind me of home,” says Miner.

The event ended with an open-mic and a freestyling performance between youth poet Lamara Howe and DJ Zuya Lakota Rapper.

For eight years, the Lakota Nation Invitational Poetry Slam has created space for Lakota youth to share their stories when popular American culture is unaware of the issues young Native people face.

“Indigenous youth are writing about issues that matter to them most: climate change, mental health, language,” says White Eyes. “The LNI poetry slam is an event to hear directly from youth on how society is impacting them."

The event was the first in-person poetry slam since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. At the event, Lakota youth practiced social distancing and wore masks to protect elders and their community.

First Peoples Fund congratulates the young people for sharing their stories and for speaking their truths.

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