SFIS Students Act as International Ambassadors

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By UNGELBAH DAVILA

Santa Fe”” It’s been eight years since writing teacher Tim McLaughlin found himself inheriting a budding poetry slam event. Since then, he says the event has evolved into something of higher artistry that is more cooperative than competitive.

In the time since its inception, the poetry slam event at the Santa Fe Indian School has transformed into the SFIS Spoken Word Club. Team members utilize the raw, modern art form of spoken word poetry to function as youth storytellers who express ancient knowledge and philosophies in a modern medium.

Today, the SFIS Spoken Word Club is an internationally-recognized, award-wining team. Acting as ambassadors for SFIS, their native communities and the country are team captains Santana Shorty and Clara Natonabah, members Ariel Antone, Berdina Nieto, Autumn Billie, Apprentice Coach Nolan Eskeets, and Head Coaches Tim McLaughlin and Sara M. Ortiz. They compete in local, state and national poetry slams and events and most recently performed at the Native American Literary Symposium in Isleta.


SFIS Spoken Word Club Coach, Tim McLaughlin at the PASS Poetry Performance at the Lensic Theater

A Language Without Borders

In 2009, with sponsorship by the U.S. State Department, delegates Santana Shorty, Clara Natonabah and Ariel Antone traveled on a ten-day visit to three Baltic countries. In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the students not only did several performances but appeared on several national news stations.

Team members often perform in their native languages. Even when their audiences don’t understand their words, they understand the poetry just by the energy it conveys.

“One of the most powerful reactions we received came from local community elders who had seen [a performance of] our poetry, and was mirrored later by an elder on one of our trips to the Baltic country of Lithuania,” said Eskeets, a SFIS graduate.

The poem he refers to is called “Po’Pay” and is about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which the team performed in the Baltic countries.

“The (Baltic) elders said that our performance brought them to the time and place of the story, that they were there with the Pueblo people defending their culture and land,” Eskeets said.

“Imparting history through stories has been a practice that is to educate, heal, and even bless those who hear it and the event itself.”


Santana Shorty and Clara Natonabah of the SFIS Spoken Word Club at the PASS Poetry Performance at the Lensic Theater

A National Sensation

Here in the United States, the team has performed in Washington D.C. at the National Museum of the American Indian and at the Chicago Theatre where they received a standing ovation for their poem “We Come From.”

In addition, the team has been written about in The New York Times, and competed in Brave New Voices 2008: The 11th Annual International Youth Poetry Slam. They have also been featured in the HBO documentary on Brave New Voices and on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

Currently, the team represents the only school in the country that has been the state champion of the Poetry Out Loud competition for all four years of its history.

As if the SFIS Spoken Word Club hasn’t been busy enough, they are currently in the studio recording their first professional, full length CD that will be released this spring along with the launching of their website.

Cajoling Students to Join

“I was told you’ll never get these kids on a microphone and speak,” said McLaughlin. “Encouraging the young people to take their writing seriously and then to actually share it publicly was daunting for the majority of the kids.”

In the beginning, McLaughlin said he had to recruit and even cajole people to join but now he says they come to him on their own.

“I saw and heard the elegant and powerful command of language that the original club members had and it interested me how much a person can express through poetry text and all its performed musical nuances,” Eskeets said.

Spoken Word Club mentor and IAIA graduate Sara Marie Ortiz said, “The process of working with and through language to bring about practical, creative, verifiable, incremental and also sweeping social change is a process that SFIS students are wholly engaged in and assume their place within almost immediately.”


The SFIS Spoken Word Club team at the PASS Poetry Performance at the Lensic Theater. Front row: Ariel Antone, Savannah Quam, Peshawn Bread, Maylinda Reynolds. Back: Nolan Eskeets, Clara Natonabah, Autumn Billie, Sara Ortiz, Santana Shorty, Tim McLaughlin.

Setting Higher Standards

The Spoken Word Club is open to any SFIS student that wants to join. However, being a part of the team requires dedication and commitment.

“We have a list of expectations, guidelines by which we all live, myself included, and they are extremely rigorous. They’re basically ways of living your life,” said McLaughlin.

Included in the list, which was developed in a discussion by the team almost a year ago, are being on time and being positive to one another, as well as being healthy and exercising.

The creation of higher commitment standards has pushed the students to search for authenticity in their stories.

“In the older members, this has resulted in a greater appreciation for self-identity and our own perspectives on the world,” said Eskeets.

When asked what he felt people should know about the team, Eskeets said, “It’s part of the human experience to compare life stories. The human life is an art form, and we love to listen.”


Read the Spoken Word Club’s poem, “We Come From”

Copyright © IAIA CHRONICLE 2010

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