Thursday, September 29, 2011

South Dakota Festival of Books 2011

More good news to share…I’ve been invited to participate in the South Dakota Festival of Books, October 7-9, 2011 in Deadwood, South Dakota, a 3-day festival celebrating all things literary. This year’s theme is Native America, which is why Hidden Heritage: The Story of Paul LaRoche was selected as one of the books to have on hand.
I'm scheduled for two presentations, Saturday, October 8th, at the Franklin Hotel, Main Street, Deadwood.

Saturday, 10 am: "Seeking Heritage: Where Literature and Identity Intersect", with Minnesota author Colleen Baldrica.

Saturday, 4 pm: "The Hidden Heritage Journey"

All authors are invited to take part in two book signings at the Deadwood Pavillion/Chamber of Commerce:  Friday, October 7, 4-5 pm, and Saturday, October 8, 12:30-2 pm.

Attending the festival in Deadwood has deeper meaning for me, because that is where the ‘Hidden Heritage Journey’ first began. Here's what I mean...


The Hidden Heritage journey began with a chance encounter in the tourist town of Deadwood, South Dakota. On a family vacation in the Black Hills in 1999 we happened upon Brulé playing near the sidewalk seating of the Buffalo Stockade bar on Main Street. The music from this small, upcoming band of three was as captivating as the surrounding landscape. Their distinct sound initially caught my attention—the hauntingly beautiful mix of flute, keyboard, and traditional drum they are now famous for. Listening one could immediately sense something deeper at the heart of it. Sure enough, in reading Paul’s Artist Bio I was equally captivated by his life story.

All the way back to Minneapolis I heard a voice, You should write a book about this man…

But before I reached home my own doubts drowned out the voice, telling me I had no connection to Paul LaRoche, a complete stranger. I wasn’t Native American or adopted, and more importantly I didn’t have any writing credentials. The loudest doubt pushed through time and time again: You’re not a real writer; you’ve never even been published! Yet each time I listed to Paul’s unique music, the voice returned.

Three years passed before I dispelled the doubts and found the courage to respond…and as soon as I did, an amazing journey began. First came an article about Paul, published in a regional magazine, followed by the book in 2006, Hidden Heritage: The Story of Paul LaRoche, including two awards. That summer I joined Paul for book signings at several Brulé events, but none was more moving than at Mount Rushmore National Monument. I stood on the park’s plaza, the majestic monument in the backdrop, beautiful Brulé music playing in the mountain air, signing books alongside Paul. It was a moment I never could have imagined seven years earlier on our first vacation to the Black Hills.

Yes, there have been roadblocks along the way, some bigger than others, but with faith and perseverance we’ve tromped over and around those obstacles, committed to keep this journey on track. In 2009 Hidden Heritage, a documentary-style television series premiered on the RFD-TV cable network, opening a door for Brulé to perform at the RFD-TV Theater in Branson, a show that’s now described as 'a Native American experience in sight, sound, and soul.' On January 1, 2011, Brulé performed atop One Nation, a Native American-themed float in the prestigious Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, sponsored by RFD-TV.

So next week I return to Deadwood to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books as an invited author, 12 years after I first saw Paul playing his soul-stirring music. Chance encounter? Hardly. Every phase of this journey declares it is God’s perfectly designed plan, a journey that is far from complete.

While writing Hidden Heritage, I discovered Paul’s great-great-great grandfather, a Yankton chief named Strikes the Ree (1804-1888), was an important figure in American history. In 1804 Lewis and Clark camped at Calumet Bluff when word came that a baby had just been born. The famed explorers wrapped the infant in a flag and declared that he would someday be a great American citizen. Their prophecy indeed came true. Strikes the Ree became a great leader among his people and played a significant role as a peacemaker during the Great Sioux Uprising. During his life he traveled to Washington DC and received peace medals from three US presidents. Worthy of an epic tale, the great burdens the chief bore during the years of cession and settlement on the Northern Plains have largely been overlooked by historians.

Strikes the Ree
South Dakota State Historical Society Photo

I believe the Hidden Heritage journey has led to this important, historical book. All this and more I could have missed, had I not taken that first step.

Where is your journey taking you?


Friday, September 16, 2011

Indian Summer Book Launch

Where do I begin?

The whole Indian Summer experience turned out to be one of those rare moments in life when God aligns the stars just right and we as mere humans stand in amazement at His divine orchestration. The beautiful lakeside Henry Maier Festival Park and absolute perfect weather, combined with the many reflections of Native culture and stirring Brulé music brought a true sense of God’s handiwork as the festival unfolded.


I couldn't have asked for more in the way of a book launch. On one side stood Joaquin with his brand new book Michigan and Rookie: Guardians of the Night, and on the other side was Paul LaRoche and his biography Hidden Heritage: The Story of Paul LaRoche. It’s humbling as a writer to think the God of our great universe chose me to write Paul's and Joaquin's stories, which in turn led to this amazing intersection of people, stories, faith, and culture.

Joaquin, Barbara, Paul
Many of North America’s tribal nations were represented throughout the three-day event, from the nearby Ojibwe tribes of Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Aztec people of Indigenous Mexico.

Because of Brulé’s popularity our booth was located inside the main entrance, making us easy to spot. :)

Besides the steady stream of newcomers that we visited with, my niece Lisa, her husband Arlo and daughter Tammy, along with another niece Babette from Wisconsin drove over to say hello. We don’t get to see each too often, so it meant a lot to have them make the trip.

Lisa, "Auntie" Barbara, Babette
Also, daughter Karli’s boyfriend Cameron’s parents, Wes and Sue, drove down from Fond Du Lac to meet us for the first time. It ended up that they enjoyed the festival so much they decided to stay for the Brulé concert.

You'll never guess which stage Brule' played...'d you ever guess-- Miller Stage!!!
 And like the thousands of fans who showed up to see Brulé, they weren’t disappointed. Somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 showed up for Saturday night’s show alone…and judging by the crowd’s contagious enthusiasm, no one walked away disappointed.

Brule' dancers

Paul LaRoche, founder of Brule'/AIRO
Paul invited Joaquin and Rookie onstage during the concert both nights and shared a little about their experience at Ground Zero. Many people in the audience stopped by our table to say “Thank you” to Joaquin for his service.

More highlights from Indian Summer 2011:

One lady couldn’t wait to begin reading Michigan & Rookie: Guardians of the Night and took a seat right behind our vendor tent...

Having fun with the Brulé gang...

Stacey hard at work while Judi and Kim goof off

Judi promoting the books
(Thanks, Judi!!)
Kathy, Paul, Vlasis

John and Rookie sharing a hot-fudge sundae…

Lakota giving Kim some juicy kisses…

Moonrise over Lake Michigan…

Joaquin's parents, Jim and Lupe, enjoying a nice breeze off the lake…

Meeting lots of new people...

9/11 Honor Parade with veterans, first responders, and Joaquin and Rookie…

One of the most poignant moments of the whole festival happened on Saturday evening. Just like the previous night, many people were drawn to Rookie’s powerful presence and asked to pet him or have their picture taken with him. As a working service dog Joaquin always has to be careful in big crowds, making sure people approach Rookie only one or two at a time.

One woman asked Joaquin to have her picture taken with Rookie. It was apparent she had some physical limitations, yet she knelt down beside Rookie, ready to pose right next to this K9 hero. As her friend held up the camera to snap the picture, she reached up and removed her ball cap, exposing her nearly bald head. At the very same instant Rookie raised his face toward hers, gently “kissing” her cheek in soft, tender licks.

Joaquin later confided that Rookie never does that, but he had somehow sensed the woman’s illness and vulnerability. In an unscripted display of affection, Rookie touched the hearts of us all.

Of course all good things must come to an end and by Sunday evening it was time to close up shop. On behalf of our crew (John, Jim, Lupe, Rookie, and Lakota) a great big THANK YOU! goes out to Paul and Kathy for inviting Joaquin and I to join up with them at Indian Summer.  Without a doubt, the book launch was an experience we'll never forget.