Autumn Dawn White Eyes, a Senior at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, is the Grand PrizeWinner in the Young Adult category of Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s VOICES OF THE LAND Writing Challenge. Autumn won the Grand Prize with a Spoken Word submission entitled “Mitakuye Oyasin,” Lakota for “We Are All Related” or All My Relations.” The panel of judges included Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, Spoken Word Superstar Jasmine Mans, Armenian American author and Armenian Genocide expert Peter Balakian and Iranian American author Susanne Pari.
Autumn grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where she attended the Red Cloud Indian School, kindergarten through grade 12. Autumn is Oglala Lakota through her paternal side, and Turtle Mountain Band of Anishinabe through her maternal side.
Autumn has written poetry her whole life and in her last year of high school she competed with a team from Pine Ridge in Brave New Voices, the largest international youth poetry slam. At Dartmouth, Autumn writes with First Voices, Soul Scribes, and Savage Media, and is double majoring in English and Native American Studies.
Autumn said of the prize, “I am honored to write for Lakota Children’s Enrichment… this contest gives [Lakota youth] an opportunity to speak from our experiences and to share our artwork with a larger audience. ”
LCE President Maggie Dunne said “Autumn’s spoke word entry was the unanimous winner in the Young Adult category. Her thoughtful and moving piece demonstrates that Autumn is both a poet and an activist, and we look forward to working with her in the future.”
Team LCE caught up with Autumn over her Spring break from Dartmouth and videotaped her Grand Prize Winning Spoken Word entry. At VOICES OF THE LAND Award Ceremonies on the Pine Ridge Reservation, at the Red Cloud Indian School and the Little Wound School, students watched her performance on a large screen. The text of Autumn’s entry is below the video.
By Autumn White Eyes
Grand Prize Winner in the Young Adult Category
On August 20th 2013, I left the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for New York City.
Flew into a city where lights on towers looked brighter than the sun.
I went through a week of disillusionment
I saw people walk by one another that they will never know, hundreds of people to turn the other cheek, and I started wondering if I was ever hurt,
would they come to me? Would they come to me?
I saw gardens between buildings, with plants, desperately trying to find a way to the sun between the dark buildings.
wondering what they would feel if they had a home like mine
My home is all the air in the sky, its sunsets melt my heart into a serenity of sanctuary.
I could write a thousand poems of its beauty
I could tell you about my cousins playing basketball next to Sacred Heart Church,
the thunder that booms against the windows while it’s raining,
And sing to you the songs of my ancestors that
I once sang
while picking sage in the prairie, taking only enough of what we needed,
and said a prayer to thank it for its sacrifice.
is one of my favorite places,
we return to mother’s womb, like retreating to our beds when we are feeling unsafe.
The heat rolling off my back doesn’t feel painful,
and sweat rolling off my skin does not burn as it should.
I pray for tomorrow’s day, my mother’s health, and the future of the children
My mother holds my hand next to me, as Unci Maka teaches me how to breathe again,
And we sing
In the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mato Tipila stands before us.
Watching over the land the people, above the sky,
letting us know she is the closest to the creator.
When I was a senior in high school, I prayed at this sacred site.
Watched rock climbers destroy her sacredness as we tried to pray.
I never thought I could feel sorry for a white person,
never thought that I could ask an unknowing question,
“What tribe are you?”
If you look far enough you could remember,
Look inside and you will find that you were a person of the Earth once too.
I watched them climb, wrapping their legs and arms against Mother Nature,
Trying to feel the spirit that has held my hand in my darkest and lightest nights,
I realized they were searching for our Grandmother, for family,
and for the Earth they will return to.
Our Earth is in crisis.
She is crying for our sympathy, feeling us strip away her nutrients.
Cutting down her mountains for mining, drilling for natural gas, and polluting the water,
‘til her resources run clean.
Like humans she cannot function without her organs.
She isn’t happy with us,
OUR family isn’t happy with us.
And like a mother who isn’t happy with us, I’ll try to make her proud.
We are all related.
© Lakota Children’s Enrichment, Inc. 2014