The Power of Poetry

In This Together, We Are One: The Buffalo Unity Project, photo courtesy of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

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In 2019, our Speakers in the Schools presentations served 770 tribal nation students. One of the most frequently booked programs was “Express to Speak,” a workshop designed by poet and performance artist Tahj Kjelland that empowers teens and pre-teens to write and perform spoken-word poetry. A media lab instructor at MAPS Media Institute, Tahj has worked with schools in Native American communities to facilitate the production of two documentaries, Rising Voices and In This Together, We Are One: The Buffalo Unity Project.

Express to Speak” advocates critical thinking and emotional intelligence through writing, reflection, and creative expression. Through our original programming, we have funded the workshop since its creation 14 years ago. Kjelland credits his long relationship with Humanities Montana for his new work with students and film. “Through the support of Humanities Montana, I’ve been able to cultivate relationships and watch the processes from start to finish.”

Rising Voices documents Kjelland’s time with Browning High School students, exploring their stories through the evolution of their writing process and final performances. Rising Voices won the 2019 National Student Production Award for Short Form Non-Fiction. In This Together, We Are One spotlights The Buffalo Unity Project’s efforts to reconnect Poplar Middle School students with the cultural significance of the American bison to the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes. In This Together, We Are One debuted at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on February 18th.

Both documentaries demonstrate the positive impact a cooperative support system—students, educators, elders, filmmakers, and organizations—can have not only in their communities but in developing relationships and providing rich human experiences across the state. Kim Anderson, our director of programs and grants says, “through our Speakers in the Schools programs, performance artists like Tahj are able to work closely with students and teachers to create tailor-made humanities experiences. It’s exciting to see the ripple effect that occurs when we collaborate with filmmakers, elders, and other organizations, as well!”

By Ryan McCarty, development intern for Humanities Montana

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