Read-In celebrates Native American stories, art, music

The Native American Read-In on April 16 brought people around the country together through the power of Native storytelling. People joined via Zoom to celebrate Native American storytelling, art, music and dance.  

The Information School and literacy nonprofit Read-a-Rama jointly hosted the virtual storytime where Indigenous artists shared their books, illustrations and traditional art forms. The event, now in its second year, provides a community and space for Indigenous culture and talent to be celebrated. 

Michelle H. Martin, the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services at the Information School, began the event with a land acknowledgement. Martin was followed by an introduction from Read-a-Rama Chief Operating Officer Monique Law. Law then introduced the event emcee, Mandi Harris, an iSchool Ph.D. student who is a youth librarian and a Master of Library and Information Science alum. 

To kick off the afternoon of Native joy, Harris welcomed Tony and Violet Duncan on-screen. Tony Duncan, who is San Carlos Apache, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara and a world champion hoop dancer, performed an honoring song on the traditional flute. 

“We are all connected on Mother Earth. We are all brothers and sisters,” said Duncan. “This song is a way of honoring the people in our lives, our aunties, our mothers, our grandmothers, but it is also used in a way of healing.” 

After the honoring song, Violet Duncan read a few pages from her first book, When We Dance, and the Duncan children closed with a traditional dance performance, sharing their Native clothes and jewelry with the audience as well. 

Harris then introduced the featured Native American creators: Angeline Boulley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tasha Spillet and Nicole Neidhart, who shared highlights about their works. After introductions, the event dove into a session of individual storytime presentations in which attendees chose to join one of four breakout rooms with the featured creators. 

In Boulley's breakout room, she talked about her path to publication and the importance of reading in her life. Leitich Smith shared her passion for student journalism with the audience and her inspiration behind authoring mystery novels. 

In another breakout room, Spillet shared her written work and discussed why voice and representation through art is especially important for the Native community. She hopes her literature can help inspire youth to be proud of their identities. 

“With my writing I hope to lay breadcrumbs for young people to follow to teach them the hard things we experience in our lives often go beyond our families and communities. It's what has happened to our families and communities that is the problem,” said Spillet. 

In the fourth breakout session, Neidhart shared upcoming Native art and literature with the attendees and talked about her process of creating illustrations for books. 

Cheryl Metoyer, associate professor emeritus and the director of iNative at the iSchool, brought the event to a close with a passage aloud from the book The Man Made of Words.

It was a memorable time for attendees, getting to experience the joys of Native art through an afternoon of song, dance, books, and illustrations. 

“I’m honored to be here and in a community with all of you,” said Harris. “Until we meet again.”