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N.M. Spoken Word Club Explores Indian Identity, History

Through verse, members of the Spoken Word Club at the Santa Fe Indian School articulate identities both modern and traditional, and maintain links to the past through native language and culture.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Finally tonight, poetry and the Native American culture in New Mexico. And again to Jeffrey Brown.

  • STUDENT:

    I live today.

  • STUDENT:

    I live today.

  • STUDENT:

    I live today.

  • STUDENT:

    We live today.

  • STUDENT:

    Practicing our religion.

  • STUDENT:

    And speaking our languages.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It was an evening of slam poetry on a recent Friday in Santa Fe, with young people offering stories through verse about their identities and experience.

  • STUDENTS:

    My native tongue blistered and burned. Cursed wind spit seeds of dead trees, spreading chaos through her skeletal branches.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But these teenagers were Native Americans, members of the Spoken Word Club at the Santa Fe Indian School, and their stories — about holding onto a culture — are unlike those heard at most gatherings like this.

  • HEILERY YUSELEW, student:

    (speaking native language) I am your Mother Earth.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Sixteen-year-old Heilery Yuselew, one of the club's captains, grew up on a Zuni reservation several hours from Santa Fe.

  • HEILERY YUSELEW:

    I just started to write about moments, memories, things that are trying to, I guess, give me a hint to connect myself back to my culture…

  • SANTANA SHORTY, student:

    Skyscrapers in cement, ugliness and pain…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The club's other captain, Santana Shorty, also 16, is the daughter of a Navajo father and white mother. When her parents split up, she lost much of her connection to her native culture.

  • SANTANA SHORTY:

    In my life, that's one of the saddest things, like, is the loss of something, especially the loss of something that makes you who you are, like in your blood. So the loss of your culture, and your language, and your tradition is just really bad.

    TIM MCLAUGHLIN, teacher, Santa Fe Indian School: If you did not do anything that has to do with your culture, I'm going to challenge you to maybe think in that direction.

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