Sunday, October 18, 2015

Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop

Turtle Mountain teens at the Open Mic night on July 31st, with National Student Poet Weston Clark (holding guitar).

This past summer, the Red River Valley Writing Project extended its scope to working with teens. We partnered with Turtle Mountain Community Schools and the National Student Poets Program to hold a week-long workshop for fifteen teen artists and writers on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, near the Canadian border. National Student Poet Weston Clark assisted with this project and led an engaging praise poetry workshop. Students had choice in which workshops to attend. Offerings included the following: puppetmaking (Sheyanna Ashes and Sam Poitra), slam poetry (Hannabah Blue), flash fiction (Lise Erdrich), oral narratives/dramatic script (Caitlin Johnson), hip hop (Mic Jordan), digital art (Jacob Laducer), chalk drawing (Kathy Nadeau), printmaking (Laura Youngbird), journalism (Caitlin Johnson), memoir (Denise Lajimodiere), and photography (Caitlin Johnson). Time was scheduled for students to engage in a deep revision process. 

Our philosophical approach to this workshop was an Indigenized version of culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP). We drew on the cultural strengths of the region by seeking out Native American writers and artists to lead workshops for students. Ten Native artists and writers modeled the values of the Ojibwe community: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, and truth. Another approach was to recruit workshop leaders from the group that presented at our Circle of Nations workshop last fall. By drawing from regional expertise, we contributed to building leadership capacity in local teachers while simultaneously building bridges between Native schools. This “teachers-teaching-teachers” model is a hallmark of the National Writing Project, and we are applying it intentionally and strategically for the benefit of Native American students. For example,
Laura Youngbird was a teacher at Circle of Nations when we did a one-day art and writing workshop for students there last year. She then helped plan the workshop for Turtle Mountain and led a session in printmaking.

Laura Youngbird (second from left), program director for Native American artist outreach at the Plains Art Museum, led a printmaking workshop for students.

Each day of the summer workshop started with a writing prompt and ended with an inspirational talk or performance. Louise Erdrich’s mother visited one day to encourage future writers. Native rapper Mic Jordan gave a performance on another day. The school provided lunch each day.
Author Lise Erdrich (above) leads a flash fiction writing workshop.  
RRVWP 2015-16 Writer in Residence, Denise Lajimodiere (right), leads students Jeryn (left) and Rick in memoir writing.

Native hip-hop artist Mic Jordan, a graduate of Turtle Mountain School, engages the students in singing with him.  

Caitlin Johnson, a Turtle Mountain tribal member, completed the RRVWP Summer Institute in 2014. She then worked as the graduate research assistant for the RRVWP SEED Grant for High-Needs School Project at Circle of Nations. She led multiple workshops at the Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop and worked behind the scenes to organize the schedule in collaboration with RRVWP Director Kelly Sassi. 
Caitlin (at computer) uploads student photography. 
The RRVWP was fortunate that the National Associate Director of the Alliance for Young Writers and Artists, Kat Hendrix (above, center), traveled from Portland to attend the last couple of days of the workshop and encourage teens to submit their work to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards this fall.
On the final day, students practiced performing their work, and an open mic was held on Friday night at Turtle Mountain Tribal College. The artwork was on display, and we had a great turnout of community members to see and hear the performers. Some of the students collaborated on a musical performance at the end of the night. We hope these students will submit their work to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

Rick Belgarde reads his work at the open mic, which was emceed by Navajo slam poet Hannabah Blue.