Review: ‘Red Paint’ looks into the healing journey, ancestry of a Coast Salish poet - Salish Current
March 8, 2024
Review: ‘Red Paint’ looks into the healing journey, ancestry of a Coast Salish poet
Questen Inghram

Indigenous author Sasha LaPointe intertwines her story of healing from some of the most difficult experiences a person can go through with her development as an artist, while weaving in compelling histories of the women who came before her. (Bridget McGee Houchins, courtesy Counterpoint Press)

March 8, 2024
Review: ‘Red Paint’ looks into the healing journey, ancestry of a Coast Salish poet
Questen Inghram

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“I no longer wish to be called resilient. Call me reckless, impatient, and emotional. Even Indigenous. Call me anything other than survivor. I am so many more things than brave.” Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe, “Red Paint”

This year’s selection for Whatcom READS is Sasha taqwšəblu (tock-sha-blue) LaPointe’s 2022 striking memoir “Red Paint.” LaPointe is a poet, author, singer and songwriter from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack tribes who grew up on the Swinomish Reservation listening to riot grrrl and punk music and watching “Twin Peaks.” Now a resident of Tacoma, she teaches creative writing at Evergreen State College. 

“Red Paint” dives deep into the stories of LaPointe’s ancestors to find strength, power and purpose while she heals from traumatic experiences. One such ancestor, Susie Sampson Peter, was a medicine worker whose stories and knowledge were recorded, transcribed and published in “The Wisdom of a Skagit Elder.” Another ancestor, Comptia Kolonowish, was a survivor of the smallpox epidemic who lived during the arrival of white settlers in what is today known as Astoria, Oregon.

LaPointe writes about healing from some of the most difficult experiences a person can go through — sexual assault, miscarriage, houselessness, divorce — all while weaving the narrative to include these compelling histories of the women who came before her. LaPointe’s story of healing also intertwines with her development as an artist — completing a double master of fine arts degree in poetry and creative nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts, getting her first poem published and joining her first band, the “anarcho-goth, post-punk” Medusa Stare as a singer and songwriter. 

“Red Paint,” which was an NPR Best Book of the Year, a winner of the 2023 Pacific Northwest Book Awards and the Washington State Book Awards, is an important account of both the Indigenous and punk cultures of the Pacific Northwest as well as an inspiration to people on their own artistic and healing journeys. 

As a part of the Whatcom READS program, LaPointe will be featured in multiple events throughout the county March 14–16. She will make her second appearance on Village Books’ Chuckanut Radio Hour, attend a five-course dinner at Evolve Chocolate + Café and give talks at Mount Baker Theatre and Northwest Indian College. There are also other events inspired by the work, including a talk at the Everson Library by two preservers of the Nooksack language on Saturday, March 9.

View a preview of “Red Paint”:

The Salish Current spoke with LaPointe; this interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: Who would you say are your biggest literary and poetic influences?  

LaPointe: I draw a lot of influence from and am inspired by other contemporary Indigenous authors; they are my favorite authors to read. I feel a kinship to their words and stories right now.

I’d say a few of my favorite writers are Tayi Tibble, a Maori poet. She wrote a book called “Poukahangatus.” I just love her work; we are doing very similar things in the sense that she’s also writing about lineage, specifically about the women she comes from in her Maori culture. But she’s not afraid to also write about the Pussycat Dolls and going to the club. I just feel like a kindred spirit with her work. She has a piece in The New Yorker that’s just stunning. 

Also, Julian Aguon, who is an Indigenous Chamorro writer from Guam — he’s incredible. He wrote a book called “No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies” and it’s gorgeous. Also, old school– you know, before I started writing, one of my favorite books of all time, and still remains in the top five list, is “Perma Red” by Debra Magpie Earling. I also love Deborah Miranda, who wrote “Bad Indians.”

Q: The riot grrl and punk music of the Northwest is obviously a huge influence on you, your art and identity. Looking back, is there a concert that is most memorable to you and what was special about it?

LaPointe: I’d say one of my favorite concert experiences of all time was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I’ve seen him multiple times … but I think one of my favorite shows was when he played at maybe the Moore or the Paramount, it was downtown Seattle — I was right up front. And I’m obsessed, I have a Nick Cave tattoo on my arm — his face is plastered on my arm. I’ve loved Nick Cave since I was 13 or 14 … He came down and sat on one of the monitors and hung his knees into the crowd … I rested my head in his lap as he sang a song. That was a very memorable moment. 

Also, seeing Against Me! back in 2002 when they played in a shitty basement. I think they were still playing on buckets and stuff. That was one of the first, most amazing punk experiences of my life; people crowd surfing in a basement hitting their heads on pipes. It was great.

In her latest book, “Thunder Song,” LaPointe shifts her focus outward, observing the world through an Indigenous lens. (Courtesy Counterpoint Press)

Q: In “Red Paint,” you describe in detail how you went on this journey of healing and how you found strength in the stories of the women in your family. Do you have advice for people seeking to go on their own healing journeys? 

LaPointe: I’d say my biggest advice is to be careful with yourself, especially when dealing with past experiences, past traumas. Because I think at the beginning, before I came to red paint, I wasn’t; I was pretty reckless with memory and dove into stuff. I would say make sure you have a really solid foundation of support, whether that is therapy for you, or a really good community and people checking in on you.

Q: In this work, you dive deep into the past, into your childhood and into the what the lives and world of some of your ancestors were like. Do you have any sense as to what the future might be like?

We see this massive rise in Indigenous voices in storytelling in media and pop culture, and film and art and that gives me a lot of hope. So, if I could imagine a future, a positive one, I think that Indigenous folks are sort of still on the rise and I don’t want to say taking over — that sounds horrifying — but I’m hoping I see balance, because there has to be. I think that the way we’re going to achieve that balance is turning back to Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous ways of being. So, in the future I imagine more people speaking traditional languages, more traditional, Indigenous stories being told, whether that’s in book form, or film and television.

Q: Your latest work, “Thunder Song,” is a collection of essays which was released this week by Counterpoint Press. First of all, congratulations, and what excites you most about this new work? 

I’m really proud of this collection. “Red Paint” was such a personal and vulnerable and important story, but I was really excited to sort of shift my gaze outward, rather than inward, and tell different kinds of stories and focus on observing the world around us through an Indigenous lens. I’m really excited by that. I think it’s important to tell our very personal, very vulnerable stories sometimes but this is … my same voice but it’s a different animal; and I’m proud of that.

Q: A lot of people in Whatcom may now be encountering your work for the first time because of the Whatcom READS program. Is there anything you’d like new readers of yours to know? 

Though this is a deeply vulnerable story, that there’s a lot of strength in it. I think sometimes people tend to — and you know; I get it, I put it out there — sometimes people gravitate towards the trauma; that is their big takeaway. I hope that people see the strength and resilience in Coast Salish people, because that’s the bigger part of it to me.

Hear a Spotify playlist inspired by the book:

— By Questen Inghram

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