By: Alex Geronimo
A silence hushes over the crowd when she introduces herself in Lushootseed, a Coast Salish language preserved by her great-grandmother. Almost as if she were casting a spell, her gentle voice entrances the audience and it is suddenly clear to them that they have been permitted to occupy an intimate space.
At the launch event celebrating the release of her first book, she reads excerpts describing the most traumatic moments of her life with a dear friend of hers playing soft chords at the synthesizer. The delicate music adds to the experience of her own voice telling her story written in the pages, and everyone in the room is whisked away to experience moments of her past.
Sasha LaPointe is an indigenous artist, a poet, a lecturer at the University of Washington Tacoma, and the author of “Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk”. With the release of her memoir, LaPointe is one of a growing group of indigenous authors telling their own stories after generations of their culture being erased and silenced. In her time as a lecturer at UWT, LaPointe often weaved her own personal experiences and Coast Salish culture into the creative writing lessons she taught in her classes. By doing so, her students not only walked away from class with a new perspective on writing and storytelling, but also with a deeper understanding of Native American culture and the resilience of its people.
“In the face of cultural erasure, my great-grandmother saw the importance of preserving language,” LaPointe said. “When you think about that, what the hell am I going to do? I’m going to tell stories.”
For LaPointe, writing became her outlet for healing at the age of 14. She shares a core memory with her audience where she realized it was her main outlet, a memory of her on a bus running away with nothing but a napkin to write on. Despite the fear she felt, writing on every inch of that napkin soothed her and kept her grounded even when she felt she had no ground to stand on. It was in that moment that she realized what she was always meant to do.
After obtaining her MFA through the Institute of American Indian Arts, LaPointe began lecturing at UWT in 2019. When she teaches her class, her method of teaching is largely influenced by the criticism she faced in her own undergraduate studies and her frustration with the lack of freedom she was given to experiment with her writing. What she hopes to foster in her students is a sense of creativity that will allow them to find their individual styles and help them not be afraid of it.
Trisha Carandang, a communication major at UWT and a former student of LaPointe, appreciated the relaxed nature of LaPointe’s class and felt that it encouraged her to tap into a creative mindset more easily when it came to her writing.
“Explor[ing] your imagination is a great way to let students learn and hone in their non-fiction writing skills” Carandang said.
In terms of LaPointe’s own writing, “Red Paint” was written to focus on the celebration of healing from trauma and honoring that healing fully. Her memoir was also her own way of honoring her great-grandmother, whose Lushootseed name she carries. Through her gift of storytelling, she represents the Upper Skagit and Nooksack tribes and continues her great-grandmother’s legacy with every book she signs, not as Sasha LaPointe, but as taq?š?blu.