Share your story: Poetry at Hibulb

Shawnee tribal member and renowned Indigenous Poet, Laura Da’, read poems from her most recent book, ‘Instruments of the True Measure’, the follow up to the critically acclaimed, Tributaries.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

As far back as many can recall, long before precontact times, Indigenous Peoples used the art of poetry to engage their communities and convey important life lessons. Through stories, the younger generations learn how to navigate through their journey and avoid some of the many pitfalls life has to offer. 

Poetry has always been a way to cleverly portray a story, rhythmically using words to paint vivid pictures into the audience’s mind. Traditionally, poems were crafted as blessings to the creator and countless storytellers throughout time used poetry to explain how Mother Earth came to be, with such verses describing the raven stealing the moon and tossing it into the sky. And across the world, generation after generation, romantics relied on the expressive art form to win the hearts of their main attraction. 

Once a month, the Hibulb Cultural Center hosts a poetry series inside of their longhouse where local Indigenous poets are featured and invited to share their words with the community. The series provides a space where creatives can tell their story and explain the thought behind each of their readings, while listeners delve into the deeper meaning, paying close attention and hanging onto every word.  

“Tulalip elders were the foremost poets in our area,” says Hibulb Cultural Center Education Curator, Lena Jones. “Our ancestral language itself is rhythmical and expressive. When one translates the elders’ words and wisdom from Lushootseed, the words contain profound meaning expressed in a beautiful way. Our elders tell us that the ancestral elders advised us to use words as medicine for the people.

“Hank Gobin,” she continues. “The first director of the Hibulb Cultural Center and himself a talented poet, included poetry as one of the objectives of the Center, feeling poetry was becoming a lost art.”

On the afternoon of January 3, Shawnee tribal member and renowned Indigenous Poet, Laura Da’ read poems from her most recent book, Instruments of the True Measure, the follow up to the critically acclaimed, Tributaries. During Hibulb’s first poetry series of the year, she explained that she created fictional characters to tell the true story of the relocation of the Shawnee people.

“I see them [my books] as part of the same art, they definitely go together,” says Laura about her publications. “They both have a sense of going back and forth from the history to the present time and kind of wobbling along that line and taking the linear piece of time out. Mostly they [show]how the past impacts the present, particularly for Shawnee people and how the history informs how we live today and how knowledge of it can gives us more strength, but also understanding of our conflicts within our own nation. Knowing what my own ancestors have gone through is helpful to me to know how to interact with challenges today.”

Poetry is an essential art within many cultures and has led to modern day music and film. To Native American culture specifically, poems are integral to many tribal communities’ way of life. Since the years of forced relocation and assimilation, contemporary Indigenous writers use poetry to speak about important issues and accurately recount the colonization era that is far too often romanticized in U.S. History. While displaying incredible resiliency, the poets give insight to rez life, coping with generational trauma as well as many other issues happening across Native America. 

“Poetry is the way I love to write best because I like that it allows a lot for the unsaid,” Laura explains. “I feel that it gives you time to sit with difficulty and also with beauty but it doesn’t tell you what to do with it. It’s a meditative kind of writing and I like to do it because it’s so difficult. It makes you notice things so much as a person. You work so hard to get the line, the image and the rhythm, you create a relationship with words that ebbs back to an original appreciation of what it means to say something.”

The one-hour poetry series allows the featured artist to express their words for approximately half-an-hour. The floor is then opened up for fellow wordsmiths to share their poems and ideas with the people. 

“Poets such as Laura Da’ bear historical witness to the strength of the Native American spirit and inspire appreciation for the diversity of the American experience,” states Lena. “Others, such as Tulalip tribal member Sarah Miller, a poet and Lushootseed Language teacher, illuminate Tulalip’s vibrant cultural legacy. Sarah will be the featured poet on February 7. The open mic portion of the poetry series brings an endless source of wisdom and imagination, often times humor, and quite often meaningful dialogue to the Tulalip experience and current social issues.”

In recent years, poetry has seen a huge resurgence within tribal communities. More and more youth are reciting original words that reflect their perspectives while tackling issues that they witness on a day-to-day basis including suicide and drug abuse. Laura encourages young Indigenous writers and artists to pursue their dream and continue creating. She also urges young Native women to use their talents as a tool to heighten their voice, expressing that stories about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, as well as domestic and sexual assault, need to be heard. 

 “My main piece of advice is, seek and cultivate your community,” she says. “Use your writing to enhance your friendships, use your writing to talk to your elders and listen to them while honoring your voice too. For young Indigenous writers, know how much we need your story.”

The next Hibulb Cultural Center Poetry Series will be held on February 7. For additional details, please contact the museum at (360) 716-2600.

NWIC Poetry students showcase work at Hibulb Cultural Center poetry series

By Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

NWIC student Ed Hill recites his poetry during the Hibulb Cultural Center's December poetry series. Students penned poems during a NWIC poetry class and recited for the first time to the public for the first time. Photo/ Bob Mitchell
NWIC student Ed Hill recites his poetry during the Hibulb Cultural Center’s December poetry series. Students penned poems during a NWIC poetry class and recited for the first time to the public for the first time.
Photo/ Bob Mitchell

Students in a Northwest Indian College poetry class had a chance to showcase their creative prowess during December’s Hibulb Cultural Center’s poetry series. The class, composed of novice and beginner poets, presented a collection of work created during the course to the public for the first time.

Professor Lynda Jensen, who teaches the class, is an avid writer and poet herself, encouraging students to create poetry with depth and emotional response.

“One of the exercises that we did in class was to make a list of 35 words we like. We would pass the list to someone else, and that person’s job was to turn the list into a poem,” said Jensen.  A poem by student Talon Arbuckle using the list of 35 words technique was performed during the event.

“I asked the students to give me a list of 35 words that they associate with themselves, with their personal identity. From these lists, I made a poem for each student. I read these poems to them at the event. That was one of my favorite parts of the evening, extolling and featuring them within poetry,” Jensen.

Students Ed Hill and Crystal Meachem, both newcomers to poetry, found inspiration in the structure of poetry. Hill’s poems focus on his connection to nature, and discovered poetry to be an inviting and inspiring form of communication. Meachem, who did not enjoy poetry at the start of the class, explored different forms of poetry to learn the deeper meanings embedded in style and word choice.

“As an enthusiastic optimist, Crystal enjoys the word search when creating something sublime. She said that when she writes poems, she lets the words flow out. Then she re-reads to see if it is sublime yet. If it isn’t she sits there, frustrated and confused, until she finds the right words to make the poem work perfectly,” said Jensen.

Novice writers Bobbi Jones and Marci Fryberg use poetry regularly as a way of self-expression. Jensen describes Frberg’s use of poetry as, “strong, inviting and eschew the exclusivity that poetry so often inflicts on readers. Her meanings are clear and her metaphors recognizable. A quiet and private person, Bobbi was uncertain about performing her poetry in public. She gave me permission to read two of her poems. After I finished reading her poem “Howling,” an appreciative hush fell over the room. Bobbi writes powerful personal poetry,” explained Jensen.

Other students use poetry as a mean of healing. Student Katie Longstreet used the skills she learned in class to write poetry as a way to process difficult emotions, drawing inspiration from strength and courage. She shared several poems that focus on the isolation individuals who endure trauma experience.

While poetry for many of the students became a way to communicate emotions and thoughts that could not be described otherwise, student Talon Arbuckle found a comedic undertone while developing his poetry.

“Talon discovered his interest in poetry on the first day of class. He shared several poems that he wrote, including one that was a response to an assignment that students write a poem as if they were someone else. Talon decided to write a poem as if he were Mike Tyson. He used only published quotes from Tyson. The poem was powerful and very well received,” said Jensen.

“The evening was full of emotion, support, beauty and laughter. It was the perfect capstone for our course,” Jensen said. “We are grateful to the Hibulb Cultural Center for hosting the event. We plan to create a chapbook with the poems we performed that night. We will make these available to the community when they are complete.”

The Hibulb Cultural Center hosts a monthly poetry series featuring local artists. For more information on the poetry series, please visit the Hibulb’s website at

For more information on Northwest Indian College’s poetry classes, please visit their website at


Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402;

Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins jumpstart Skagit River Poetry Festival


May 12, 2014

The eighth annual Skagit River Poetry Festival in La Conner kicks off at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 15, with Sherman Alexie and Tom Robbins swapping literary wit and wisdom on stage, after a feast of fine local food at the benefit Poet’s Table dinner at La Conner Elementary School.

Through Sunday, Mary 18, such notable poets as Evelyn Lau, Robert Hass, Mark Doty, Elizabeth Woody and Kwame Dawes will read and discuss their art in venues throughout La Conner.

Sunday is a day for workshops with top poets. Details: 360-770-7184,

“Still Here: Not Living In Tipis” gets more recognition

“Still Here: Not Living in Tipis” Book Cover
“Still Here: Not Living in Tipis” Book Cover

Assembly Members Congratulate First of its Kind Book & Exhibit


HAYWARD, CALIFORNIA — Photographer Sue Reynolds’ latest work – a new Native American collaborative book and exhibit – have been recognized with a certificate from the Offices of California Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and Assemblyman Bill Quirk.

The certificate commends Sue’s remarkable ability to bridge the gap between Native and non-Native peoples.

Since its Nov. 1st, 2013 launch as the first-ever photo-poetry book collaboration between a white urban photographer and reservation Indian poet, “Still Here: Not Living in Tipis” has received high praise from U.S. Congressman George Miller, California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, The San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times, Native News Online, Indian Country Today and many other culture-shift commentators applauding Sue’s trailblazing mission.

Sales are good, too, with purchasers locally and nationwide calling the vibrant volume “a gem” that’s beautiful to look at and creates real cross-cultural change.

The accompanying “Still Here” exhibit at PhotoCentral in Hayward, CA – another collaborative effort with Charlo – concluded at the January 12th Closing Event with a sizable crowd applauding this newest recognition.  Both the show and book are about survival and resurrection in the face of long odds, revealing reservation life, honoring tribal ways that endure and acknowledging that walking in two worlds is hard.

“Still Here: Not Living in Tipis” features over 40 of Reynolds’ stunning images paired with Salish Indian poet Victor Charlo’s powerful poems, immersing readers in old ways and what it means to be Indian today from Native and non-Native perspectives.

A portion of proceeds from book sales benefits the American Indian College Fund. Purchase book here.

Poetry works show Alexie at his best


Kathryn Smith The Spokesman-Review

January 12, 2014

Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie

Death. Family. Loss. Love. Wealth. Poetry. Spirituality. Genocide. Prejudice. Sherman Alexie’s new poetry collection, “What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned,” demonstrates the National Book Award-winning writer’s ability to tackle big themes, weaving them together in the context of his Indian identity and with his wry, unapologetic sense of humor.

And he wastes no time doing it. Alexie takes on all these topics in the collection’s first poem, the wide-ranging and powerful “Crazy Horse Boulevard,” always through the lens of his Indian identity (a member of the Spokane Tribe, he uses the term “Indian” almost exclusively). He addresses being Indian in a white world (“Most of the people who read this poem will be white people”), as well as within Indian culture, on and off the reservation (“Among my immediate family, I’m the only one who doesn’t live on the reservation. What does that say about me?”). The poem brings historical prejudices into a modern context, and Alexie calls things as he sees them, especially when it comes to the choices people make from what he sees as places of luxury (“If my sons, Indian as they are, contract some preventable disease from those organic, free-range white children and die, will it be legal for me to scalp and slaughter their white parents?”).

The focus on racial and cultural identity comes through strongest in the book’s first section. “Happy Holidays” pointedly discusses the complicated relationship modern Indians have with American holidays. “Sonnet, with Slot Machines” wrestles with the politics of Indian casinos and issues of gambling.

“Slot Machines” is one of many so-called “sonnets” in the book; the poems comprise the second section and are scattered throughout the others. In labeling these poems sonnets, Alexie initiates a conversation about form, forgoing the traditional 14-line rhyme and metrical structure and instead following formulas of his own. This reinvention of form allows Alexie to stay true to his own voice, never sacrificing his natural vocabulary for the sake of someone else’s definition of “poetic.” Yet Alexie pays homage to formal poetry and to his literary forbears by recognizing the significance of the form’s constraints while giving it his own spin.

Whatever form he uses, Alexie stays true, too, to his own style of storytelling. And “What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned” is, at its core, a book of stories, told piecemeal, which hit the reader with their poignancy in the way Alexie weaves the seemingly disparate pieces together. In “Sonnet, with Tainted Love” he does this with a missing persons case, nightmares and the movie “Dirty Dancing.” “Hell” links Dante, Jimmy Durante, Moses and a fear of heights.

At 156 pages, it’s lengthy for a poetry collection, and the book does drag at times. (“Phone Calls from Ex-Lovers,” for example, probably doesn’t need to list all top 100 songs from 1984. Surely 10 would have made the point.)

But the slow moments are overcome by the tenderness of “Steel Anniversary,” by the undeniable momentum of “The Naming Ceremony,” and by the sledgehammer truths that catch us off-guard, the laugh-out-loud surprises and the utter honesty with which Alexie delivers it all.

“What I’ve Stolen” creates a world that, to borrow a line from “Sonnet, with Tainted Love,” “is equal parts magic and loss,” and it’s a book worth savoring to the final line.

Tribal member heads to regional poetry competition


Tribal member Braulio Ramos places first  in a poetry recital.
Tulalip Tribal member Braulio Ramos will be competing in the Poetry Out Loud regional competition.


By Jeannie Briones and Kim Kalliber, Tulalip News staff

MARYSVILLE, Wash – Braulio Ramos, Tulalip Tribal member, and senior at the Bio-Med Academy located on the Marysville Getchell High School campus, never realized that he could excel in public speaking, especially poetry recital, until he joined Poetry Out Loud, a nation-wide high school program that encourages youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation, while mastering public speaking skills and building self-confidence.

Ramos, along with six other students, participated in the second finals for the national Poetry Out Loud contest in December, held at Marysville Getchell. With his confidence and natural flare, Ramos won first place, making him eligible for the regional Poetry Out Loud competition in March.

Ramos chose to read ‘Bilingual/Bilingue’ by Rhina P. Espaillat and ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll, stating that Alice in Wonderland is one of his favorite books.

Each year over 300,000 students take part in the national poetry recital contest. 2012 marked Marysville Getchell’s first year entering the contest, which is funded by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts.   Participating students must choose two pre-approved poems from the Poetry Out Loud online poem anthology; one that has fewer than 25 lines and one that was written before the 20th century.

“By trying news things, you find that you are good at something that you never thought you would actually do,” said Braulio. “Two days it took me to memorize one of the poems. I would read it and listen to it and see if I could recite it without any help. A method my teacher showed us was to write down and compare what you know, and compare it with the actual poem itself.”

The judging panel for the December competition consisted of the Mayor of Marysville, John Nehring, Marysville School District Assistant Superintendent, Gail Miller and MSD Board of Directors Vice President Wendy Fryberg and Board member Pete Lundberg. Student’s scores are based on six main criteria: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding and overall performance.

The Regional Poetry Out Loud competition will take place January 30th at the Burlington Library, located at 820 East Washington Ave. Winners of that competition move on to the state contest, which takes place in March, and then on the nationals, held in April.

These events are free to the public. For more information on the regional and state competitions, contact Nancy Menard at


Jeannie Briones: 360-716-4188;