Countdown to this years retreat...from our organizer, Dr. Sarah Hernandez

My research interests focus upon American Indian literature, specifically modern/contemporary Dakota and Lakota literatures. Therefore, I was excited to be asked to coordinate the Oak Lake Writers’ Society’s annual retreat for tribal writers. The retreat, which is sponsored by South Dakota State University, is scheduled Sunday, July 29 through Thursday, August 2, 2018.

This year’s writing mentor is Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and an SDSU alum. She has published more than twenty books on American Indian culture and history, poetry, and fiction and non-fiction books for children. At the retreat, she will discuss her books Completing the Circle (1995), and Grandpa was a Cowboy and Indian (2000), and explain the process of writing and researching family stories, and also experimenting with different literary forms and genres.

On Wednesday, August 1, writers will share the work they completed at the retreat at an annual community potluck and reading. The potluck will begin at 6:00 PM, and readings will start at 7:00 PM. This year’s reading will begin by announcing the winner of SDSU’s Emerging Tribal writer award. Established in 2013, the Emerging Tribal Writer Award, like the Oak Lake Writers Society, is intended to increase the number of Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota writers publishing and presenting in the Great Plains region.

For centuries, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota voices have been silenced by EuroAmerican writers who often intentionally/unintentionally perpetuate the myth of the “Vanishing Indian,” which suggests that tribes are ancient, primitive, and extinct. Dr. Charles Woodard and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, who established the group in 1993, rally a group of 10-15 writers to meet for several days at the Oak Lake field station near Astoria, SD, to combat this dangerous and pervasive myth.

The Society’s mission is to “organizes literary efforts for the purposes of preserving and defending Oceti Sakowin (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) cultures, oral traditions, and histories; to reaffirm our peoples’ political statuses; and to regulate and transform representations of such that are inaccurate and damaging. To those ends, we create, research, review, publish, present, and promote works in various genres in a manner that will bring about a greater understanding of our cultures, legacies, and lands.”

At the retreat, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota writers work closely with prominent American Indian writers to sharpen their craft, learn from one another, share their stories, and present and publish their the work. Previous mentors include 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday, whom many literary scholars credit with launching the Native American Literary Renaissance of the 1970s. Over the years, other mentors include James Welch, Susan Power, Heid Erdrich, and Cook-Lynn to name a few. Cook-Lynn has regularly mentored the group since its inception, often emphasizing the importance of using tribal writing to challenge American Indian stereotypes and assert an empowering Native voice.

Collectively, the Oak Lake writers have published three books: He Sapa Woihanble, Black Hills Dream, The Stretch of the River: Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Responses to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Bicentennial, and Shaping Survival: Essay by Four American Indian Tribal Women. He Sapa Woihanble, Black Hills Dream. Each book allows writers to assert the Native voice and to offer insight into historical events that attempted to silence that voice such as the theft of the Black Hills, the desecration of the Missouri River, and the Boarding School Movement.

I teach these books regularly in my classes at SDSU because they highlight the tribal perspective and emphasize that we are still here. Most importantly, these books provide significant insight into an aspect of South Dakota history that many other writers downplay and/or ignore. As an educator, I firmly believe that we need to acknowledge this history so that our communities – both Indian and non-Indian – can start to heal from these losses.

For more information about the Oak Lake Writers Society, please visit our new website: https://olws.squarespace.com/

Post originally published on CAIRNS, The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies, directed by Dr. Craig Howe, a longtime OLWS member.