Art and Performance Spring 2024

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Find it at Hundreds of Locations Around Seattle!

Queen of Our World

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With just a handful of pages to go in Thunder Song, a series of essays from award-winning Coast Salish author Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe, LaPointe asks her reader, “Are you listening yet?”

She breaks the fourth wall, but she isn’t speaking for just herself. With poignant essays that center her own experiences, the Coast Salish landscapes, livelihoods, and people who were lost to colonialism—while unapologetically celebrating those who survive—LaPointe sees herself preventing Indigenous erasure in multigenerational company. She traces the ongoing struggle from Chief Seattle, to her great-grandmother and namesake, Upper Skagit elder Vi taqwšəblu Hilbert, to herself.

In an interview with The Stranger, LaPointe, who says she read The Stranger as “a little twerp on the rez” and decorated her bedroom walls with its print covers, picks up where her previous book, Red Paint, left off. She discusses the forms of loss that inform her writing, revisits her experiences as a Native punk rock artist, and highlights the local communities and groups sustaining her today.

Place is a big part of what your book is about—everything from “the landscape of your identity” to “the landscape of your body”—but there’s also such an emphasis on time. You write how, in the thick of lockdown, “All these white women on Pinterest are baking loaves of sourdough, and I am trying to time travel.” Which is a great zinger, but is also reflective of how you’re connecting pandemic loss to how Chief Seattle must have been grieving, and naming the fact that you’re the descendant of survivors of smallpox. So I’m curious how much the reality and compartmentalization of the COVID-19 pandemic is something you’re consciously trying to emphasize in these essays.

[Laughs] Not to just like, you know, outwardly throw shade to all the people making sourdough, but there came a time where I felt like, as a Coast Salish person still living on the reservation, it felt different, it hit different. I remember crawling out onto my roof and seeing construction stopped for months; things are already so hard to get done on the reservation or to develop. And then it would be frustrating and almost rage-inducing, to see people on social media in their “baking era” while thinking about, you know, my ancestor Comptia Koholowish, who was the sole survivor of smallpox that wiped out her entire village. So it wasn’t like a cute break from work for me. Writing about it was absolutely intentional and something I was grappling with.

You write that, “To honor grief, one must first acknowledge loss.” There’s a lot of acknowledgment of loss in your book: the loss of landscapes, of your great-grandmother, the list goes on. It seems like something that really strings this book together. You have this refrain, “Are you listening yet?” And I feel like a big part of that is you trying to say, “Look at how much loss is around you—everything from tulips, which reshaped the geography of Skagit Valley in settlers’ image, to, like, sourdough eras.”

This is such a great point. Your observation means a lot to me because I think the through line of these essays is this confronting of erasure. Even the city that I was so enamored with and couldn’t wait to get off the rez to get to: It erases something. As an adult, I learned more about the landscape of Seattle. Settlers literally had to bring in dirt from elsewhere to build it up. Settlers had to transform the tide flats to make them livable. There’s grief and loss, even anger, sometimes, over the erasure of people who were here and thriving. You know, Pike Place Market is built over a place where there were abundant shellfish gathering, and, even worse, I’ve heard that there were burial sites. This place that I was so enamored with is also just another kind of representation of erasure.

In the essay “Reservation Riot Grrrl,” you mention the old-school femme attendee in the crowd of a local punk concert who was a total shithead to you, a time capsule for what the punk scene looked like 15 years ago. How have you seen these spaces change, and where do you think they’re headed?

I 100% see it changing; these spaces were predominantly white dude spaces and white feminist spaces. I love that you brought up that show, because the crowd was multigenerational, part of the crowd was brown and Native folks, and then of course, the woman who was really nasty to me, an older-generation probably OG riot grrrl. She wasn’t quite getting it right. And so to see these two generations butted up against each other in the same space was frustrating at one point, but also gave me hope for the future of punk spaces that even just 15 or 20 years ago I felt really outside of. Now I see Native bands coming up, I see more representation and less of a white boy party, and I think that’s really exciting.

Speaking of music, how do you see it influencing your writing? It seems you’re multi-hyphenate in many of the same ways that your great-grandmother was: being really skilled in music, writing, and storytelling. 

Well, major props to my great-grandma, because she was my biggest inspiration and influence. She was incredible. Someone asked me once, “You have punk in the title of your memoir [Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk]. How would you apply that term to your great-grandma or your ancestors? If you think about activism and the things that drew me into punk when I was younger, she was the OG activist. She literally saved a language from extinction and did a lot of language revitalization activism. So I feel like I have to give her a lot of credit for that. 

And in the early days where Red Paint leaves off, I had never been able to be in a band. That had to do a lot with the crowd that I was hanging out with in my teens and twenties. It wasn’t until my thirties that the folks in Medusa Stare approached me and said they wanted me to be in their band. And that was really empowering for me. It lined up with that point in my life when I was burning my entire life down and walking away. I think it inspired my writing, supported it, nurtured the little voice in me saying, “Hey, you can be loud.” I finally had permission. And I think that that absolutely carried over into my writing, where I was less intimidated to write about the things I wanted to write. 

When I was writing Thunder Song, I was playing music with Kari, who was the drummer of Medusa Stare. When we started playing music together, it was just a two-piece and it was super weird. I think we got a review once in Razorcake that was like, “If you want a slumber party with your girlfriends and watch The Craft and have a séance, they’re great for that.” I thought that was the coolest review ever. So it was just really experimental and strange. 

Kari would write music and be like, “Do you have lyrics for this?” My essay about tulips in Thunder Song came out of a song because I had more to say about that. I think that my relationship with music, and especially my connection with Kari, nurtured my writing process.

It seems like your initial contact points for both punk and writing were really empowering. You talk about having punk songs making you feel less alone. And then you describe the experience of contributing to a zine as a teenager, cutting up a shitty ex-boyfriend’s nudie magazines that he gave you into a collage. It sounds like the relationship between music and writing was kind of there for you, even before working with Kari.

Punk was like a gateway drug into poetry for me. As a teen runaway and alternative high school dropout—who does that?—I didn’t arrive at writing through any academic way. I didn’t go to college until I was in my mid-twenties. So the first time I heard bands like Bikini Kill, that kind of opened this doorway. I heard spoken word, and then Sylvia Plath—so predictable, right?—and then I got real into the confessionals. And then I wanted to see more performance poetry and then and then it just grew and grew and grew from there.

So both really connected you with a community, even if they’re imperfect?

Definitely. The “Reservation Riot Grrrl” essay is half a love letter to Riot Grrrl. Even though it ended by the time I had stumbled upon it, that movement still had such an impact on me and fired me up. It opened up doorways into more of the underground DIY kind of music scene that was in Seattle, which saved my life in a lot of ways. 

Are there communities or groups sustaining you now in the Seattle area?

When I think of community, it’s impossible not to think of the Native Pathways Program. I started teaching with them last year. It’s so incredible. To be in community, especially academic community, and to be able to teach creative writing at a program that is geared for Native students and Indigenous pedagogy… it feels like a family to me. Even yesterday, I drove out to the Peninsula College House of Learning, the longhouse there, to see my friend and coworker have her first big art opening. It was so badass. Her photos were all of Indigenous women, and were multigenerational. Being in that space, walking around the gallery, and seeing all of my buddies while she was playing this cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” but singing it in a traditional language, I was like “I am where I need to be.” 

What do you hope people glean from Thunder Song?

It’s not just “Please listen to my stories and my experiences.” I hope there’s more visibility of the culture, the language, the people who were here pre-contact. I hope the book shifts their thinking about what it means to be a guest on this land, to occupy Coast Salish territory. There are really beautiful things happening around the city, like Real Rent Duwamish, the yəhaẃ Indigenous Creatives Collective, that can help people shift how they are occupying this territory. 

And hopefully, that should carry over in the sense that attempted genocide is not unique to the Coast Salish experience. Settler-colonial trauma happens all over the world. I guess I’m hoping that people pick up this book and experience some of these stories, some of these histories, and can try to see the world through a more decolonial lens. 

Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe will be at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park Tuesday, April 16. Tickets are available at