Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Presents on Acclaimed Memoir

Published: October 14, 2016 | Author: Chase Leavitt | Read Time: 2 minutes

Laura ToheSUU Convocations is delighted to host Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Dr. Laura Tohe, who will be presenting on Thursday, October 27 at 11:30 a.m. in the Hunter Conference Center. Tohe will be reading from and discussing her acclaimed work, No Parole Today, a poetically crafted memoir on her personal and familial experience in the American Indian Boarding School System. As with all of SUU’s convocations, this event is free and open to the general public.

“We are thrilled to have a writer of Laura Tohe’s caliber share her work with us on campus,” said Dr. Danielle Dubrasky, director of SUU Convocations. “It is not very often that we have someone with so much expertise and personal experience on a topic that is frequently glossed over by history. Tohe’s presentation should provide a great opportunity for everyone to learn about the struggles faced by Native Americans in Indian boarding schools.”

Dr. Tohe is Diné, or a member of the Navajo Tribe. Along with writing No Parole Today, she has written several other works of prose and poetry, including Tseyi, Deep in the Rock; Making Friends with Water; Sister Nations; and Code Talker Stories, an oral history of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. She also wrote Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio, a libretto commissioned and performed by the Phoenix Symphony. Her work has been published in prominent journals around the world, and she was recently named the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate for 2015-2017. Dr. Tohe currently serves as Professor with Distinction in Indigenous Literature at Arizona State University and is closely affiliated with American Indian Studies, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, and Honors College.

No Parole Today delves into what living at a Navajo Boarding School was actually like, from its early origins to Tohe’s own experience there. Tohe’s great-grandfather happens to have been one of the first Diné (or Navajo) students to attend such a school, and Tohe goes as far as to compare her own Indian school experience to serving a prison term. The poetry and personal narrative conveyed in No Parole Today sheds stark light on the challenges Tohe and her family faced in maintaining their cultural identity in a system set on destroying it.

“Laura Tohe speaks movingly about the impact of the boarding school experience on her ancestors that still reverberates into the present,” said Dr. Emily Dean, associate professor of anthropology at SUU. 

For Tohe, writing is the ultimate release and recompense from that period of cultural captivity. “To write is powerful and even dangerous,” she writes. “To have no stories is to be an empty person. Writing is a way for me to claim my voice, my heritage, my stories, my culture, my people, and my history.”

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