A few weeks ago, I attended the presentation of poems and music by the organization Sing Our Rivers Red to raise awareness of missing and murdered Native American women across the continent. Every performance was incredibly powerful and meaningful, and I really showed how space can be made to talk about what is painful, what is forgotten, and what feels otherwise invisible through art– the presentation also set up an exhibit of earrings to represented the missing women. (I’d really recommend everyone looking up this organization and learning more about their message, by the way).
While watching Levees, I was reminded of Sing Our Rivers Red in that Lee uses his documentary, as an art form, to raise awareness of what is otherwise forgotten and covered up– the suffering of those neglected by the state. Obviously the contexts and
Last week, Frost library was home to the Sing Our Rivers Red earring exhibit and accompanying events that aimed to shed light on the typically silenced narrative of murdered and missing indigenous women across North America. Additionally, the spoken word event intended to make space for voices of people of color, LGBT+ people and allies. The event ended up being particularly well timed, as news of eleven women from Attawapiskat attempting suicide broke early last week. The Sing Our Rivers Red and Rise Up! events were so successful because they disrupted traditionally colonized spaces on our campus.
The placement and timing of these events were crucial to their effectiveness. The healing fire (which allowed victims and allies to come together and make offerings in the form of letters or notes) took place right on the freshman quad, a central point on campus. The earring exhibit found a home on the first floor of Frost Library, allowing all passerby to bear witness to the emotionally challenging exhibit. The spoken word event also directly gave voice to those who are traditionally silenced. The passionate poems and songs performed rang throughout Frost Library. Echoes of the words being shared could be heard from floors up and down from where the actual event took place. I found the event to be so successful because it disrupted and challenged the traditionally white,structured space of Frost and transformed it into a space for these voices to be uplifted. It’s clear that this concept hearkens back to the work of Amherst Uprising: breaking down a structure to make space for those who are typically pushed out of it.
Also of note was the great community effort that this event became. Not only did various organizations at the college come together to help the event come to fruition, but community members from the surrounding area also joined in to show their support and aid in the efforts. The event was intended to be for the community, and one of active participation, making collaboration a crucial element. It was great to see this interactive nature and the way the community responded. The events reinforced how imperative it is to keep these conversations going and to continue to create spaces for voices that are traditionally suppressed.
The Sing Our Rivers Red exhibition and poetry reading was a powerfully moving experience. I and the audience, in the words of Hannabah Blue, bore witness to the to painful and resilient stories of native women. I was made aware of how powerful the act of bearing witness can be, when the narratives are being actively silenced and swept under the rug. Abandoned. Ignored. This spoke, again, to the importance of cultural narratives: to their power in writing and re-writing memory, and in creating a space for healing. I thought about the role of art – poetry, painting, film, etc – in affording hope, and power; in bringing people together; in creating conversation.
I encourage everyone to check out the Sing Our Rivers Red project and learn more about the amazing work they do.