Saturdays at CWS to Feature Author Kent Nerburn

Saturday, November 9, 2013, from noon until 2 p.m. Author Kent Nerburn will discuss his latest book, The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo. The event is free, but registration is required.

The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo is the culmination of a lifelong literary journey through Indian country by author Kent Nerburn, who has been praised as “one of the few writers who can respectfully bridge the gap between Native and non-Native cultures.”

In this, the third in his trilogy that includes the award-winning Neither Wolf nor Dog and The Wolf at Twilight, the two-time Minnesota Book award winner blends historical research, oral testimony, traditional Native story telling, and the narrative techniques of the modern novel to create an unforgettable journey into the hidden corners and unknown realities of a Native America that few of us know and almost none of us ever sees. An early reviewer has commented that “Nerburn has an understanding of the Native culture that transcends the best efforts of theologians, anthropologists, sociologists, the BIA, and zealous do-gooders.”

“There is a deeper spiritual knowledge in this land than we know,” Nerburn explains, “and it still resides in the hearts of the Native Americans. And there are hidden truths about the Native experience that our national historical narrative has tried to ignore. In GSB I try to give us a respectful glimpse of that deeper spiritual knowledge, and to open a window on some of the hidden truths that we need to acknowledge.”

The hidden truth at the center of The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo is a long forgotten institution called the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians that stood from 1899 to 1933 on the lonely prairies of eastern South Dakota. It was the only asylum in the country exclusively focused on the Native Americans. Run without proper medical guidance or outside oversight, it committed Indians from all tribes, often for simple actions such as following traditional spiritual practices or opposing tribal power structures, as well as for physical and mental disorders.

Once government investigators got a look behind the doors of the asylum, they found people chained to radiators, sitting in their own waste, and breathing air thick with coal dust. Isolated, with no governmental or medical oversight, it was a death sentence for those who found themselves within its monolithic confines.

Nerburn came across the existence of this asylum while traveling the Dakotas seeking information on the Indian boarding schools. When he encountered the asylum graveyard with its nondescript monument listing the names of 121 people who died while incarcerated in the institution, he knew this was a story that needed to be told.

The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo is the telling of that story, along with deep insights into the spiritual traditions of the Lakota and the Ojibwe. It also has some of the strongest literary evocations of the landscape of the Dakota plains and the northern pine forests found anywhere. Read it as a character study, a riveting novel, or a glimpse into the history and ways of the Native people. The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo is a book that defies categorization.  It will appeal to lovers of history, mysteries, good novels, and the magic of this American land.

Hosted by the Center for Western Studies, Saturdays at CWS workshops are designed to bring additional educational opportunities to the Sioux Falls area.

To register, contact Kristi Thomas, education assistant for the Center for Western Studies, at 605.274.4007. The Center for Western Studies is located in the Fantle Building at 2121 S. Summit Ave.

Past workshops:

  • Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013: "Historic Photographs of the Dakota Territory." Collector Robert Kolbe discussed his photographic collection featuring images of the Dakota Territory.
  • Saturday, Jul. 13, 2013:  "Digital Photography" was presented by Gene Smith of Harold's Photo Experts in Sioux Falls, SD.
  • Saturday, May 11, 2013: "Discuss Native Soul: An Insight into the Artwork of Jerry Fogg" was presented by Yankton Sioux Oyate artist Jerry Fogg, who provided insight and interpretation for selected works from his collection currently on display at the Center through June 1.
  • Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013: "Building Your Art Collection" was presented by Kara Dirkson of Artísia Fine Art Services at the “Saturdays at CWS” workshop event from 10-11 a.m. at the Center.
  • Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012: "Gathering Family – A Guide to Genealogical Research,” was presented by Dr. Loren H. Amundson, author of "Norwegians, Swedes and More" (6 vols.) The workshop ran from 10-11 a.m. at the Center.
  • Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012: "The Writer Inside You,” was presented by David Allan Evans, South Dakota Poet Laureate and author of "The Bull Rider’s Advice" and "After the Swan Dive." The workshop ran from 1-2 p.m. at the Center.