A cohort of six South Dakota State University Indigenous undergraduate students honored “place” through a series of performances at the National Communication Association Annual Conference.
The theme for the national conference, held Nov. 17-20 in New Orleans, was “Honoring PLACE: People, Liberation, Advocacy, Community and Environment.”
The student presenters who made up the SDSU panel were Carol Glaus, Lindsay Hammer, Sarah Hunter, Mikayla Janis, Dallas Kelso and Whitley Olinger.
The SDSU undergrads shared their tribal identities with stories through creative writing and poetry, together with various visual and performative expressions of place (connection to the land), place (sense of belonging) and PLACE (People, Liberation, Advocacy, Community and Environment).
The SDSU student performance session showcased personal and cultural ways of knowing, being and doing—including jewelry making, painting, dance, sewing and photo essay. These creative expressions were accompanied by students’ own written stories and poems of identity, culture, resilience and educational persistence. These multidisciplinary artistic voices activate Indigenous practices and experiences as integral components of students’ educational identity formation, according to the performance proposal.
The students, five of whom are Wokini Scholars, were mentored by Karla Hunter, professor in SDSU’s School of Communication and Journalism, and Amber Jensen, lecturer in SDSU’s School of English and Interdisciplinary Studies. The students’ presentation included:
• Carol Glaus, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation who is majoring in psychology, presented “Meaning of my identity: My struggle of being half Native American and half Filipina as a young adult working toward a career,” written work that included paintings and drawing.
• Lindsay Hammer, a Sisseton Wahpeton member who is majoring in communication studies, presented “Passing culture to future generations and healing through dance,” written work that included fancy shawl dancing and additional mixed media.
• Sarah Hunter, lineal descendant of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee, is majoring in biology and neuropsychology. She presented “Shadow catcher: A photographic exploration through frustration, hopelessness and beauty in uncovering my hidden and erased ancestral heritage,” written work including a photo essay.
• Mikayla Janis, lineal descendent of the Inhonktawan Yankton, is majoring in nutrition and dietetics. She presented “Finding myself: Exploring my ancestry through bead work and jewelry making despite not outwardly Native.” The written work included bead work/jewelry making.
• Dallas Kelso, an Oglala Sioux Tribe member majoring in English education and American Indian and Indigenous studies, presented a slam poem titled “Listen,” a short non-fiction piece titled “Nightmares of the Lakota,” and shared one of her paintings that metaphorically represented herself.
• Whitley Olinger is a lineal descendant of Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and eighth-generation descendant of Chief Little Crow and is majoring in interior design. She presented “I’ve got questions: Exploring through writing questions I’ve asked myself the last year leaving home and finding my identity as someone who is passionate about my ancestry but is not outwardly native,” a written work.
Hunter said the conference is focused on academics, and to have six undergraduates on one panel is impressive and inspiring.
“We were thrilled with the reception they were given,” she said. “We really wanted to make sure that in discussing the connection between indigeneity, belonging and resilience, we showcased the unique ways that these students expressed their voices and made sure to highlight that creativity.”
“So much of it is about amplifying their voices and offering a platform for expression and continuing to build meaningful connections and belonging,” Hunter said.
Jensen said she watched each student gain confidence throughout the process, from their collaboration leading up to the conference, their discussions while in attendance, and the students’ reflections on the experience of presenting and participating.
“In some ways, I can relate to that, because I remember what it was like to feel my way through the academic and professional world, unsure of where I fit in, or even what was possible. It is important for all of us to discover where we fit in and what our voices can add, particularly important for young Indigenous students, because it is important that we hear those voices,” Jensen said.
The students and faculty thanked their tribal writing mentor, Tasiyagnunpa (Livermont) Barondeau (Oglala), executive director of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society, a variety of SDSU faculty and staff members across campus who provide continued academic and administrative support, and the generosity of their funding sources for this project to date including the following:
The Waterhouse Family Institute, which funded the foundations of the project including contracting with their mentor and offering stipends to participants; SDSU’s Wokini Challenge Grant, which continues to support the group’s outreach to foster relationships with a variety of tribal entities; SDSU’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, which provided the majority of the conference travel funding; and SDSU’s School of Communication and Journalism and School of English and Interdisciplinary Studies, which provided additional travel funds and ongoing operational assistance.