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Lakota Nation Invitational poetry slam highlights young voices

Mahpiya Mesteth, a junior at Lakota Tech High School, delivers a poem in the first round of the slam.
C.J. Keene
South Dakota Public Broadcasting
Mahpiya Mesteth, a junior at Lakota Tech High School, delivers a poem in the first round of the slam.

Poets represented their schools, backgrounds, and culture at the ninth annual Lakota Nation Invitational poetry slam.

Autumn White Eyes, associate director of youth development with the First Peoples Fund, said poetry connects to a long history of storytelling.

“For us as Lakota and Dakota, and as the Oceti Sakowin people, oral history is very centered into our culture and way of being," White Eyes said. "Passing down stories and telling stories... Poetry has always been a part of that oral history and the telling and sharing and performing of stories. So, we’re connecting back to that oral tradition.”

Gusti Rattling Hawk is an administrative co-coordinator with the group. She said slams like this offer poets a chance to heal.

“A lot of these students and youth and young people are really well-rounded young people who just try new things and put themselves out there," Rattling Hawk said. "They’re already coming and telling these stories and the act of reading and writing and doing poetry is healing within itself.”

One poet, Mahpiya Mesteth, is a junior at Lakota Tech High School. He said his first poem “Potential” came from his experiences at school.

“I’ve been doing really good this school year - I’ve been getting involved in things. Compared to these last school years, it was rough," Mesteth said. "After I kinda found myself, I realized that yeah, I can do great things for myself. I think that’s what I was trying to convey. If I can, then anybody else could.”

First Peoples Fund presented Thursday’s poetry slam.

Many of the poets, including Mesteth, also competed in other LNI events.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture