Austin Big Crow, 16, shared some of his most intimate thoughts and feelings on big issues facing Native American young people as he stood on stage Saturday performing his poetry. 

Big Crow and three fellow poets from the Tȟéča Wówapi káǧA Olákȟolkičhiye or TWKO, a young writers society program established for students on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, stirred emotions with their personal accounts of dealing with suicide, social life, family, absent fathers and loved ones who have died.

The sophisticated subject matter, poignant phrases and eloquent delivery of the four students gave no indication that Saturday at the National Indian Education Association's 44th annual convention was their very first public performance.

Rapid City hosted the convention this year at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center starting Oct. 30 and ending Saturday. It brought in more than 1,500 delegates from all over the U.S.

The Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the economic impact to be nearly $1.6 million from the education convention that culminated in the student spoken word performances Saturday.

In slam poetry, Big Crow has found an outlet.

"I love doing this because it's a way to express yourself without really being judged," the junior at Red Cloud High School said Saturday following his performance.

Fellow poet Chantel Roubideaux talked about the piece of herself that is missing after losing her grandparents.

"The tree that is me has roots so deep," her poem began.

She went on to talk about how she wishes she could learn all that her grandparents had to teach her about life, family and herself.

The 17-year-old senior at Red Cloud Indian School was passionate about why she loves writing, performing and watching slam poetry.

"I love the emotion in other peoples' poems," she said. "And I love my own emotions coming out in my own poems."

The brand new writing program is a collaboration between Little Wound Middle School English teacher Kate Kelly and The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School's museum educator, Brandie Macdonald. 

"Not only is the poetry seen as an art form, it's also a safe space for conscious resistance, social change and societal reform," Kelly said. "And I think our students have a lot of thoughts on that."

Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8415 or jennifer.naylorgesick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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