- Monday was not your typical day at Two Eagle River School, the
grades 7-12 alternative tribal school in Pablo.
out of the gate, Henry Real Bird, a 55-year-old Indian poet and
rancher from the Crow Reservation, closed his eyes tight, thrust
his arms toward the sky and shouted out a long, long line from one
of his "cowboy" poems to a group of wide-eyed, 11th-grade
silver conchos on Real Bird's belt gleamed in the morning sunlight;
his black ponytail reached almost to his waist, and his yellow shirt
had the top two buttons open at the throat.
the feeling morning after yesterday just before the sun a little
beyond nothing on this side of everything dreaming of a feeling
on a dream ..."
beautiful to daydream," he then told the students. "You've
got to have something to say. I'm not really in love with this world
as it is, but this world is where I live."
Bird's visit was part of Monday's Celebration of Native American
Literature at Two Eagle River School.
after lunch, right there in the lunchroom, Debra Magpie Earling,
46, the award-winning Salish novelist of "Perma Red,"
stood erect and stock still, only her lips moving, her voice a clear
drone. She read a long, disturbing and violent passage from her
second novel (still not published and as yet untitled) involving
the stabbing and dismemberment of an Indian warrior woman.
students came up to her afterward in tears, so affected were they
by the power of the words.
was, of course, some time for teaching - traditional teaching.
Moore, a University of Montana associate professor of English who
specializes in American Indian literature, presented each of his
students with a tidy, four-page study guide. He gathered each group
of students in a standing circle, and asked them to read aloud poems
of Indian writers. Each student read one line at a time, clockwise
around the circle.
chattering stopped, and you could hear each voice distinctly as
the students took turns. First, the students read from Joy Harjo's
"Eagle Poem" published as an audiotape and CD.
pray you open your whole self
sky, to earth, to sun to moon ...
eagle that Sunday morning
Salt River. Circled in blue sky,
wind, swept our hearts clean
sacred wings ...
this initial reading, Moore asked the students questions: "Did
you notice when we started reading, the room grew quiet and the
poem became more powerful? Did you ever think of the eagle as a
model of how to behave? You can open up the self like the eagle
opening its wings. There you are, soaring, a circle of motion. We
can take (the image) with us into everyday life."
disturbing was the next selection, an excerpt from the book-length
poem, "From Sand Creek." The book is a reflection in verse
by Acoma Pueblo poet Simon Ortiz on the unprovoked 1864 Sand Creek,
Colo., massacre of a village of Cheyenne Indians by a militia of
been a burden
steel and mad
a spring wind
from Sand Creek ...
terrible moment in American history," Moore concluded. But
not an isolated one. He mentioned a less famous, but even bloodier
massacre, closer to home - the so-called Baker Massacre on the Marias
River in north-central Montana in 1870. About 200 Piegans, most
of them either elderly or women and children, were killed by the
relentless gunfire of U.S. government soldiers armed with the Army's
new Springfield repeating rifles.
remains one of the least-known and least-told stories of American
military history, according to some students of American Indian
do these images offer different angles on America and history? What
does it mean for an American Indian to tell America about America's
own heart?" he asked his class.
of the students seemed deeply affected by the readings and interaction
with American Indian writers.
getting interested in writing. I'm learning writing is easy,"
said Allie Burke, 15, of Ronan, after the dramatic lunchroom reading
by Earling from her novel in progress.
daylong event was organized by Trent Atkins, assistant professor
in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the UM. He said
it was part of a program called TERRACE, which stands for Two Eagle
and Ronan Reading Acceleration for Content Excellence.
program involves the Ronan School District, Two Eagle River School
and the Native American Studies Department and the School of Education
at UM. Teachers from the Ronan, Pablo and Two Eagle schools were
also welcome at the workshop, and several joined the 60 Two Eagle
students in sessions with the writers throughout the day.
presenting were Rhea A. Ashmore, professor of literacy studies at
UM, and Allison Hedge Coke, author of "Dog Road Woman,"
which won the American Book Award for poetry in 1998.