By Santee Ross, University of Montana
Guest speakers have never really held my attention—no matter the topic. They could be talking about how to achieve a Jessica Alba body while eating a slice of pizza a day and I still wouldn’t be interested enough to pay attention.
Mary Smoker is the exception to that statement. Smoker is Assiniboine and Sioux from Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation. She was running on Indian time for her presentation on the University of Montana campus Tuesday but walked in with a clear mission, commanding the attention of everyone in the room with her gentle presence and kind voice.
Smoker opened her presentation by saying she is a strong believer in education. She had been in fact a teacher and principal. Her honest and caring nature towards the youth radiated from her when she spoke about her teaching days.
Along with being a compassionate woman who had been involved in education, she is a published poet. “Another attempt at rescue,” is her collection of poems that was published in 2005.
Smoker then began to share her story of how she became a poet. She was attending college in California when her mother became sick with cancer, so Smoker moved back to Montana to be closer to her. Smoker’s mother eventually passed but Smoker had no way of knowing how to deal with the grief and frustration she felt.
“Writing, I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have that outlet,” Smoker said. She began to journal her emotions, which eventually became letters to her mother. These letters then evolved to poems.
Now I have a confession to make, I have never really enjoyed poetry. Poetry seemed very complicated and intricate. I was obviously reading the wrong poetry because the poems composed by Smoker found a way into my gut—not literally that would be gross.
Her poems just clicked with me, they were instantly relatable. In her poems, I could see my family and the memories that tied me to them. I felt a connection to her poetry and even more so with her gentle voice reading them in class.
Yep, I think I just found my new role model.
Santee Ross (Hopi/Lakota) is from Lander, Wyo.