Margo Tamez, UBCO Indigenous Studies professor, is an organizer for indigenous poetry nights at Gallery Vertigo, the first of which is slated for March 29. (Pierre Richard photography)

Poetry nights spark indigenous self exploration

Indigenous poetry nights are set for the last Thursday of every month at Gallery Vertigo

Storytelling: it’s an integral part of indigenous culture. However, westernization of these cultures has impacted the art form.

In an effort to inspire indigenous peoples in the North Okanagan to reconnect with their storytelling ancestry and, in turn, learn more about themselves, Margo Tamez and Debbra Butler are kick-starting monthly indigenous poetry nights at Gallery Vertigo.

“It’s going to be organic entertainment as part of an initiative to bring indigenous poetry into the community,” Butler said.

The inaugural indigenous poetry night at the gallery is slated for March 29 from 6 to 8 p.m., with the event recurring the last Thursday of every month.

“We thought this night could be an intro,” said Tamez, adding that the inaugural night will feature students from the UBCO indigenous poetry class she teaches.

Championed by Tamez and developed into the Indigenous Studies Program at the University, the course is now in its second year.

“It’s gaining momentum,” said Butler, who is a student of Tamez’. “It touches us.”

Drawing inspiration from the long poem form and traditional indigenous storytelling, the class inspires students to look at poetry through a lens different than that of English studies.

“They couldn’t be on more opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Butler, a fourth-year indigenous studies major at UBCO.

“Poetry for us is a very important tool and method for getting down to key stories, truths and remembering,” Tamez added. “Memory, globally, is a big area of social inquiry. The value of human memory, that’s something important to capture and nurture. For indigenous peoples to be able to uncover what happened to us, that’s very important for creativity.”

But, with a class full of eager students from many different walks of life, Tamez and Butler felt the students were left wanting more.

“The students wanted something that was outside of campus that was community-based,” Tamez said. “When we picked this idea there was a lot of uptake. So far, it’s just been super exciting and inspiring. It’s a way for us to value that people who are doing a lot of interesting work aren’t in the academy.”

Because Tamez and Butler believe knowledge cultivation begins with community.

“It’s the indigenous way,” Butler said.

Tamez, of Apache origin born and raised in southwestern Texas, moved to the Okanagan in 2010 to teach and contribute to the expansion of UBCO’s indigenous studies degree program.

Related: First Nations language degree being developed

Upon her arrival in British Columbia, however, Tamez felt a disconnect.

“I feel it’s very hard to move across borders for indigenous people in North America,” Tamez said.

Through art forms such as poetry and her work at the school, Tamez said she was able to find a sense of community amongst other indigenous cultures.

“Poetry has been a journey of healing,” Tamez said. “I think community is what all humans are searching for.”

Writing indigenous poetry has been a conduit of healing for Butler as well, she said.

“When I started, I was very much afraid. I was going to have to deal with my oppression head on. There was a time I couldn’t see a powwow without bursting into tears,” said Butler, who is of Thompson indigenous ancestry from Lytton, B.C. “All of a sudden, I was able to find a way to bridge that. I had this opportunity to find myself, the real me.”

And for Tamez and Butler, that exploration of identity is what these poetry nights are all about.

“Art influences health and well-being. People can sort of recreate their lives through self-determination,” Tamez said. “We want to create a safe space for indigenous peoples who want to craft their voice and vision through poetry and creative writing.”

For more information, call Butler at 250-309-1044.


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Debbra Butler, UBCO Indigenous Studies student, is an organizer for indigenous poetry nights at Gallery Vertigo, the first of which is slated for March 29. (Doris photography)

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