Bridging cultures and creative journeys

Life for white North Dakotans and Native Americans can seem a world apart. Yet, in Dunn County and across the country, folks of all ancestral backgrounds share geography, resources and a common urge to provide security and wellness for future generations.

Thanks to technology and social media, people on both sides of an American Indian reservation border also share news, information and opportunities to communicate.

Communication is the focus of the Dunn County Writers’ (DCW) “Native Americans & The Media Arts” program, to be held Sept. 17-18 at the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer.

Native American leaders in film, scholarship, music, literature and journalism/new media will present during Saturday’s series of events. Visiting scholars include documentarian Juan Carlos Peinado (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara), Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara), Williston-based singer-songwriter Jaese Lecuyer (Algonquin-Metis), award-winning author Susan Power (Yanktonai Dakota) and Pulitzer Prize Finalist Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock). The program is free, open to the public and includes a complimentary appetizer buffet with punch.

A Sept. 18 workshop with Power is open to 20 registered participants. Registration is $10 and includes breakfast and lunch. (See sidebar and links for full itinerary and to register for workshop.)

“This is an opportunity for people of all cultures to come together in Dunn County to increase understanding, to renew or form relationships, and to maybe gain a new respect for each other’s culture,” said DCW Board President Colette “Koko” Gjermundson of Marshall, N.D.

The creative history of American Indians—past, present and future—forms the bedrock of the continent’s cultural landscape.

“The Native story is America’s story,” said Trahant. “You cannot know where this country is going unless you have an idea about the larger narrative.”

Trahant will moderate a panel discussion and read from his own work on Sept. 17. He is the former president of the Native American Journalists Association, has written two books and is the current Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota.

As a child, Trahant wrote his first newspaper in crayon and went on to work for a tribal newspaper as a teenager. He’s now encouraged by the hundreds of Native American journalists in print, broadcast and on-line media throughout North America.

He hopes the audience will recognize themselves—Native or non-Native—in the words and tales offered by the weekend’s lineup.

“When we share stories we are changed,” said Trahant. “We understand perspective, history and what makes this journey familiar to all of us.”

Cultural bridge-building is not an “either/or” question, Trahant said. Both perspectives—Native and non-Native—are equally important for enriching families and communities.

Many Dunn County residents yearn to strengthen their personal connections with neighboring Three Affiliated Tribes/Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara (MHA) Nation.

“It feels like I have some stake in Fort Berthold Reservation,” said Koko Gjermundson, who gained cousins of MHA affiliation through marriage. “I think we’re proud to share geography and communities, yet the cultural differences can be so diverse that I’m not sure we understand each other. I think all of us would like to know more than we do.”

Unraveling a few strands of this “tangled web” may be one beneficial result of the Native Americans & The Media Arts weekend.

“I hope this program helps me and the audience learn how to reach across the cultural and geographical borders with respect,” Gjermundson said. “I hope this program strengthens the ties and broadens the roads we all travel together.”

The program is made possible with partial funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council and donations from local sponsors.

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