Last week I presented my Lakota Leaders talk inside the walls of the South Dakota State Penitentiary. I will admit, I was a little nervous presenting in front of 59, mostly Native American Inmates. When I talk about Spotted Tail, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, I do not approach them as Lakota Leaders, or as Legends or as Icons. I present them as Leaders -period. I also do not gloss over their weaknesses. I believe that presenting them as humans who make mistakes, elevates their accomplishments even more than just idolizing them. In a similar manner, when I create characters in my novels, I try to avoid making a character “all good” or “all bad.” It is easier to relate to someone who has weaknesses just like all humans do. Unfortunately, there are some who take this approach as an insult. I certainly do not mean any disrespect and I was hoping that the audience inside the walls would appreciate what I was trying to do.
The Inmates appeared to really enjoy my approach. I’m guessing that they have all made mistakes in their life which is why they were in prison in the first place. Looking at these great leaders from the nineteenth century as men made them more relatable. One of the most gratifying comments I’ve received since I started writing came after my presentation as, Mark the Inmate, leading the group told them to “Take the message the speaker has given us back to our Brothers who could not be here today. We can take what we learned and apply it to become better, more like these Leaders. Would any of you be willing to give up your life for your people like these Leaders did?”
I hope he wasn’t just placating me, but the body language of all 59 inmates there indicated that they were paying attention. I was taken by how little the Native American Inmates knew of their own history. Giving them information on the important Lakota Leaders of the past was a great experience. I appreciate the South Dakota Humanities Council Speakers Bureau for sponsoring me.