Finding common ground through storytelling

Folks from all over North Dakota and beyond will gather Sept. 17 at the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer for a daylong educational event called “Native Americans & The Media Arts: Bridging Cultures & Creative Journeys.”

“We’re all walking side by side and sometimes not even aware of it. Programs like this help us share our human experience.” – Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray
“We’re all walking side by side and sometimes
not even aware of it. Programs like this help us
share our human experience.”
– Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray

The free program, organized by the literary nonprofit Dunn County Writers, brings five Native American thought leaders together for the first time to explore and discuss the roles of American Indians in today’s journalism, new media, film, academics and books. One goal is to allow non-Native folks a chance to forge a stronger connection to their Native American neighbors by listening to their stories.
“This is a place to build dialog between different communities and share the richness and parallels that exist in our lives,” said Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College President Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara). Baker-Demaray will sit on a Sept. 17 panel and emcee the evening’s Reception & Reading.
It was a rainy Labor Day and the scholar was teaching her kids how to make fry bread at their home on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. She instructed them to add two cups of flour to the mix.
“Family’s coming over in a few hours and it’s too cool outside for a barbecue,” she said “So it’s fry bread and chili.”
Baker-Demaray blends her tribal traditions with contemporary life in a way that seems organic. Armed with a Master of Science degree in education and a Ph.D. in teaching and learning research methodology, she brought that same spirit and skill to her previous position as director of the National Resource Center on Native American Aging at the University of North Dakota.
Now, as a tribal college president, Baker-Demaray is acutely aware of the bridge between Indian Country’s old and new ways as well as the bridge between Native and non-Native cultures. What she finds when she crosses over is common ground.
“We really like to make these divisions and believe that we’re separate,” she said. “Actually, we have similar stories and there’s quite a bit to share. And when we do that, we end up seeing ourselves in spite of ourselves.”
Forums like “Native Americans & The Media Arts: Bridging Cultures & Creative Journeys” is especially topical today. Technology makes communications between cultures more accessible and transparent.
“Media, social media and some trailblazing journalists like Mark Trahant have brought us more emerging voices from the Native community,” Baker-Demaray said. “That Native voice is not being filtered or changed up to suit the usual stereotypes of us.”
Trahant (Shoshone Bannock) serves as the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at UND and covers Native elections at his website, He is moderator of the Sept. 17 panel discussion.
Baker-Demaray pointed to current Indian Country events such as the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance efforts near Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation south of Mandan as proof that Native voices are being heard in higher volume.
“Some of the messages we are sending across are really hard things to talk about,” she said. “But it’s not just about Native Americans. Everybody drinks water and everybody wants their children to value the ceremonies and language of their culture.”
NHSC addresses these issues head on, through English and digital media classes and the Sacred Synergy Writers’ Conference. The conference, held each spring, is heading into its third year.
“We bring writers, filmmakers, digital artists onto the reservation to show students that these people are just like them,” Baker-Demaray said. “It says to students: You can do this, too. Your voice and your story are just as important as anyone else’s. Your voice contributes to the larger body of work. To a young person on the reservation, this is critical.”
The same message applies to the college’s non-Native students and to people everywhere, said Baker-Demaray. One place to start is at the program in Killdeer.
“I can’t believe I’m part of this panel,” she said. “I’m just so impressed by the level of talent. They are all so personable, so kind, so humble.”
Baker-Demaray predicts everyone will enjoy themselves and not want to leave.
“We’re all going to want to keep engaging,” she said. “That’s the purpose here, to engage on a human level and to share our cultures. We all come from a beautiful shared place. I’m looking forward to that connecting.”
The day begins at 1 p.m. with a film screening of Waterbuster by documentarian Juan Carlos Peinado (Mandan-Hidatsa- Arikara). At 3:30 p.m., Peinado joins award-winning author Susan Power (Yanktonai Dakota) and Dr. Baker-Demaray for a panel discussion, moderated by Trahant. All four scholars will read from their current work at an evening event, featuring a complimentary appetizer buffet and live music by Williston singer-songwriter Jaese Lecuyer (Algonquin Metis).
A three-hour intuitive writing workshop will be held Sept. 18. During this unique opportunity, Power will instruct up to 20 writers in generative exercises, craft talks and sharing. Power is the author of three books, including the just-released novel, Sacred Wilderness. As of press time, six of 20 available seats remain; registration is $10. To register: www.susanpowerworkshop.
For more information: or www.nativeamericanmediaarts.

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