In a world determined to decide who others are, author Sasha LaPointe has neither forgotten nor chosen. She can navigate the salmon songs of her Upper Skagit and Nooksack ancestors and recite lines from Bikini Kill’s debut album.
The journey towards this harmonious duality is explained, in depth, in his latest book, “Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk”. It’s a peaceful walk that epitomizes nostalgia, grief and pride – the growing pains of LaPointe’s experience as an Indigenous woman as she heals throughout her life. LaPointe will discuss the book at a Tuesday meeting of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club.
Not only is “Red Paint” a metaphor for LaPointe’s family traditions, it’s also an active transcription of his healing. LaPointe sprinkles family motifs to express the ancestral pride of his identity, but also the generational healing that many indigenous lineages undergo.
“I knew these mental health issues and struggled with PTSD, struggling to heal from trauma experienced and experienced, as well as passed down from generation to generation; I was looking deeply for healing,” she said.
The title “Red Paint” honors the native traditions unique to LaPointe’s Nooksack and Upper Skagit tribal ancestry. During ceremonies at the Skagit Valley longhouse, the LaPointe family wore red paint to signify their community contributions as healers and medicine workers.
“The more I talked about it with my mother and remembered my experience as a child and going into the longhouse, the more the red paint became this deep image of healing,” LaPointe said.
LaPointe earned her MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2017. She began early drafts of “Red Paint” there, testing how her experiences as a Native American girl, and her art of creative non-fiction and poetry. , coexist in the DNA of “Red Paint”. LaPointe’s impeccable execution of the dynamic prose-poetry texturizes “Red Paint.”
LaPointe’s rhythm walks a tightrope between cultural aspects and modern storytelling styles in English.
In certain pockets of prose where LaPointe reflects on her Upper Skagit values and traditions, she eliminates excess phrases and leans into the passive voice, where the speaking rhythms, common in folklore, shine. The visions are best told in the past tense, and the reader moves with LaPointe as she reminisces about family memories. LaPointe returns to this style when speaking of his ancestor, Comptia Koholowish. In “Prologue: Winter Dances,” LaPointe frolics in the past tense to construct clear images, identifying moments for which she had not been present.
“In the longhouse, people have gathered. They lit a big fire, they banished the spirits in an opening ritual, and then they danced. They danced to the sound of drums. On dirt floors, barefoot, with thick smoke in the air, my ancestors danced until dawn,” she wrote.
LaPointe credits her writing style to her grandmother’s storytelling tactics, something she watched closely as her grandmother’s namesake. LaPointe reflected on memories of her grandmother and how she would capture the attention of the room while sharing ancestral stories in the Lushootseed language and in English. Witnessing her grandmother’s seamless duality for the sake of storytelling “makes Red Paint the story it is”.
“She was such a guiding force for me throughout this book, but throughout my life and I wanted to honor that, which is why I start the book with her words,” LaPointe said. “Her storytelling tactics were very intense, beautiful with a lot of power. It was impossible not to listen to her because she was so powerful, and you were drawn to it.
During her individual journey, LaPointe immerses herself in the cultural signifiers of Seattle music and television. References to the ’90s crime drama “Twin Peaks,” where LaPointe sees the endless, ominous woods similar to the forest areas around the Skagit Valley Reservation, or his need to channel Audrey Horne for being “dark, smart, and above all fearless” the behavior shines throughout “Red Paint”.
Outside of his Aboriginal values and as a teenager, LaPointe lived within the punk aesthetic. Punk identity represents a cultural anarchy where the outsider feels safe in emotional taboos like heartbreak, traumatic but melodic tales of violence, and an adamant refusal to assimilate into the status quo.
“I’m including punk in the title because it has weight, because, yes, I grew up close to my (indigenous culture) and it’s my culture and the legacy of my identity, but it’s the same goes for those undergrounds, those underworlds and the family-friends intersection where my identity is powerful,” LaPointe said.
It’s no surprise that LaPointe, an Indigenous woman in one of the whitest parts of America, expressed the difficulty of struggling with not fully fitting into the punk space. LaPointe hits the punk vibe successfully, but the targeting white spaces can impose on Indigeneity creeps into its midnight mosh pits.
“I have a lot of nostalgia and sentimentality for ‘Twin Peaks’ and the Seattle music scene, but I look back and it’s mostly white people. I was the only native person there,” he said. she said, “Of course I had my community, but every time I turned on my television or listened to music, it never came back to me.”
Yet the punk identity still left enough room for LaPointe to express his angst over the cultural impacts of white supremacy.
“I remember being in the shitty little bathroom in our trailer, playing Nirvana and Bikini Kill and being a little kid, and it touched me so much. The power, the anger was something I felt deeply connected to and felt less alone,” she said.
With the music thickening LaPointe’s story, she’s curated an official playlist for “Red Paint” that’s available wherever you stream music. Ranging from iconic punk bands like Wipers, Bikini Kill and Nirvana, the 37-song playlist features more than 20 Pacific Northwest artists.
“This playlist reflects the arc of my experience, but also reflects what I was listening to while writing,” she said. “It’s not great, but sentimental.”
With the music, the legacy, and the feeling of not being in your shoes, LaPointe tells a deeply personal story with a sense of familiarity.
“I set out to tell my story of growing up on the reservation and the things that happened there, things that I experienced fighting the silence for so many survivors, especially Indigenous women,” said said LaPointe. “We must work against silence and spread our stories.”