Everything is Still Here
We just have to dig it up again
Boozhoo! Aaniin! Welcome to the midweek(ish) version of An Irritable Métis. This is where things are usually a little more random, a little less … irritable. If you forgot what all this is even about, you may remind yourself here. If you want to help keep a writer out of hard labor, well….
The Lit Festival to End All Lit Festivals
In January of 2020 I drove to Havre, Montana, to do an event for One-Sentence Journal at the public library. I was going to be in the area – the Hi-Line, we call it, named after the railroad but living on as a particular existential state of mind – for a few days. The Little Shell were celebrating our federal recognition at a big event in Great Falls just a couple days after my Havre appearance and I figured I’d just hang out. Knowing I’d be there for multiple days long on darkness, I couldn’t think of any better writer to bring with me than James Welch. In this case, his masterful second novel, The Death of Jim Loney. It’s a must read if you want to have any kind of real understanding of what Indian life was like for people from my father’s generation, and what that means to people like me. There may not be a more important writer from this ambiguous place we call “The West” than James Welch. Maybe not from the entire continent, for that matter. Yet for all his renown in certain circles, he isn’t known nearly widely enough. Hopefully that will change.
“There is no space in America for Native artists to talk publicly about our work with each other. This festival will be that place, open to anyone interested in this extraordinary conversation. Join us for an inaugural event celebrating the beauty of Native literature and the legacy of James Welch, one of the greatest and most original of Native writers.”
I spent a good chunk of the last couple years involved with a small group of people in an effort to organize the James Welch Native Lit Festival. My schedule kept me from the last few meetings in birthing this thing but I was there for most of it, and now I am stoked to finally get to say it’s happening: this July 28 – 30 in Missoula. Live, in person. With Louise Erdrich as the headliner. David Treuer. Tommy Orange. Terese Marie Mailhot. And other great names. I’m so happy. It’s a big friggin’ deal.
I’m sure I’ll talk more about all this as it gets closer. But kudos to my Blackfeet friend Sterling HolyWhiteMountain for doing the lion’s share in making this happen. And to the magnificent Lois Welch, who, through this process, has also become a very dear friend. I’m so grateful to know these folks, and I can’t wait to gather with everyone in person.
Teen Doc Intensive 2022
I mentioned a couple weeks ago how I’d been asked to volunteer my time as a subject for some budding documentary filmmakers. The short film (about 5 minutes long) they made over the course of three intense days is available for you to watch. Here are some details:
Nine talented young filmmakers came together from across the state of Montana to make this powerful short, learning the ropes of documentary filmmaking and the power of working together as a team. Students joined from Harlem, Whitefish, Ronan, St. Igantius, Polson, and Missoula area for the 2022 Teen Doc Intensive during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
I love that three of them were also from James Welch Country. Harlem, just a few miles off the Fort Belknap Reservation. The end credits, seeing all the tribes represented by these beautiful young people … it’s almost more than I can take.
I struggle watching myself on video but I am very moved by the work they did. I hope you like it too. It was a real pleasure to devote a weekend to. Wow.
When You Teach a Language Nobody Should Fail
I’m working on a piece about teaching Indigenous languages in Montana, how it’s being handled, the challenges teachers face, its move into the digital world, etc. It’s fascinating, heartbreaking, and magnificent all at once, just like everything else in Indian Country. I spent the last two days on campus at the University of Montana attending a conference called “Empowering Class 7 Educators.” I’m not going to reveal much here but I’m telling you it was awesome. So many Indians. So many great hats. The ribbon dresses! And the various Indigenous words rolling from the tongues of people from small children to the most rascally of elders. I was so moved by it all.
The tribes in Montana are divided up onto eight reservations1 encompassing a dozen tribes speaking eleven languages. The following image is a photo of a slide from a presentation that lists those languages.
A case could be made for Sign Language as #12. And certainly Michif should be on the list too. Still, who knew how beautiful a checklist could be, eh?
My piece will be out in May, I think. I can hardly wait to share it with everyone.
Brilliance from James Welch, from his timeless book of poetry, Riding the Earthboy 40….
Miigwech, friends. Do something nice for a child today, if you can….
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Technically seven reservations plus the Little Shell, who don’t have a reservation … but I (and probably everyone else) get tired of explaining it so I just say eight.