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Inuit Poet dg nanouk okpik comes full circle at SKC

By Lailani Upham

Dg nanouk okpik an acclaimed Inuit poet shares readings from her new book, “Corspe Whale” last Wednesday at the Johnny Arlee and Victor Charlo Theatre. (Lailani Upham photo) Dg nanouk okpik an acclaimed Inuit poet shares readings from her new book, “Corspe Whale” last Wednesday at the Johnny Arlee and Victor Charlo Theatre. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Rays of light shine from her eyes, and her smile remains fixed with a beam of happiness that is felt across a room. Next, her airy, sweet, voice touches the hearts of each listener as the words of her poems are pictured in the minds of those assembled in a dimly lit theatre on the Salish Kootenai College campus last Wednesday afternoon.

Inuit poet and Institute of American Indian Arts instructor, dg nanouk okpik, captured a fairly large audience with readings from her newest book, “Corpse Whale.”

“I feel so grounded and so at home here,” she said as she opened up to the eager listeners.

Okpik attended SKC over 15 years ago and said she found a home away from home. She described feeling adrift when she first arrived on the campus of SKC. However, the SKC ambiance did not take long to help her find her calling.

Her first class was in Corky Clairmont’s, “Native American Images in Film.”

“It woke me up in such a way that I felt I had to finish college – and share my voice.” Her voice was her creative writings.

She said it was in that class she saw the images of Native Americans in the early years of film making that Native peoples were portrayed completely wrong.

(L to R) Linda Ferris with daughters, Siliye, Susseli and Maii Pete, sing an honor song for a long time friend and poet dg nanouk okpik. (Lailani Upham photo) (L to R) Linda Ferris with daughters, Siliye, Susseli and Maii Pete, sing an honor song for a long time friend and poet dg nanouk okpik. (Lailani Upham photo)

She felt her gift of writing could be used to do what she knew she could do portray who her (tribal) people really are.

“Writing is what I am. It is what I know.”

Her name was given to her to her through elders of her family. She did not understand the words of her tribal language and said she was embarrassed to ask.

One day she found out what her name meant through common conversation. She had been answering to the name, “old story teller.”

“I meant so much, it was an honor,” she told the crowd. She said she felt a special feeling in that name and to be seen as a person that respected words in such a way, okpik shared.

She said she believed that words have many meanings and as a writer one needs to know this, to be used as tool.

“Words are sacred,” she spoke in a delicate yet strong sound.

She heartened to the crowd of mostly SKC staff and students in closing statement that, “We must know where we (tribal people) are and where we are going. And art has something to do with that (knowing). It makes me very happy that I can be part of that.”

The poetry reading and book signing was brought to the community by SKC, Potomac School, University of Montana Native American Studies Department, Missoula Writing Collaborative, Montana Writing Project, Montana Poet Laureate Sheryl Noethe and Heather Cahoon.

Corpse Whale is available at the SKC Bookstore.

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