Read. Return. Repeat.

A ReadICT podcast

Season 2, Episode 4: A Story for Everyone

In this episode, co-hosts Sara Dixon and Daniel Pewewardy dive into category 6, a book based on mythology or folklore. Joining them is Thomas Yeahpau (also known as That Native Thomas), a Kiowa and Apache Storyteller and author of the 2016 novel The Last Pow-Wow, which he co-wrote with Steven Paul Judd. They talk about the importance of storytelling, why it resonates with so many people, and how traditional stories are still relevant in the modern world.

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription. Some errors may occur. If you find a transcription error, please contact us with any corrections and we will make those corrections as quickly as possible.

[MUSIC]

SARA, VOICEOVER: Hello, reading friends. We're back for another episode of Read. Return. Repeat. : A ReadICT Podcast. I'm Sara Dixon.

DANIEL, VOICEOVER: And I'm Daniel Pewewardy.

SARA, VOICEOVER: Today we're going to take a deeper look at category 6, a book about mythology or folk tales, in an episode titled A Story for Everyone.

DANIEL, VOICEOVER: Our guest today is Kiowa-Apache storyteller Thomas Yeahpau. He goes by the pseudonym That Native Thomas. He's an author, screenwriter, and actor.

SARA, VOICEOVER: He wrote the book The Last Pow-Wow with Steven Paul Judd. It's a book teeming with magical realism where nine seemingly separate stories dovetail in the end at the pow-wow of all pow-wows.

DANIEL, VOICEOVER: We'll talk more about the book and dive into Native folk tales and how they resonate in today's modern world.

SARA: Hi everyone, welcome to Read. Return. Repeat. We're so excited. Welcome, Thomas.

THAT NATIVE THOMAS: Hello.

DANIEL: So I'll go ahead and get started. So first of all, this category is about mythology and folktales, but how would you differentiate between mythology and folktales?

THOMAS: Well, I haven't had a chance to look up the definitions of either one but to my understanding, you know, folktales there's more local stories rather, you know... that kind of pass around you know like Bloody Mary which is at every town across America and probably the world, you know? It was kind of the folktales. But the mythology is, you know, how stars came to be, you know, stories revolving around creation. You know, more important stories as far as folktales are more just life lessons and I think mythology is more rooted in belief. But you know, I mean it's... it can cross over as well, too. A lot of the especially Native Americans with art mythology, you know it's... it's different on every tribe so it's hard to imagine you know 200-something, 250 different views upon how, you know, the world was created. And so that that's the mythology and but then you go into tribes and they all have their own little folk tales like, you know, the Inuits up north, you know, have... I think I saw a movie, The Fast Runner. They have those stories that they tell for certain reasons, you know, to teach a life lesson within their community. In which that one was about, you know, betrayal, not betraying family. You know, keeping family first. That's... that's where my two definitions I think are different.

SARA: That's really interesting. So why do you think that folk tales and mythology and these things, they resonate so deeply with people?

THOMAS: I think it's just our need to... I think we innately have a need to hear stories and know stories in our lives, you know? We actually go out and seek them and then not only if we can't seek them, we can't find them, we... we tend to go out there and live them, you know? And you know, truthfully that's what we are, we're just all a living story when, you know, we're all buried underneath the earth, you know there's the story of us kind of like, you know, I think the play Hamilton plays, you know, at the end who's going to tell your story? You know, I always like that song. I thought that was a good concept, you know? I was like, yeah, we're just what we are, we're living stories so yeah, we're going to be drawing the stories, especially stories of the unknown, you know? Like mythology stories which are rooted in belief so there's no really telling if it's true or not, you know?

We don't know if Zeus is alive or made up, you know. We don't know any of these mythologies, you know? Even our stories, you know, deer lady. You know, a lot of people have their... thing with Bigfoot, you know, we have our... if we believe it or we don't believe it. You know it's... but you know, a lot of us have different stories we resonate toward too depending on our lifestyles, you know, like me, I'd resonate toward true crime even though I don't write true crime but that's... that's what I like to really watch. And it teaches me life lessons because I get myself in really bad predicaments or used to, in really bad settings so, you know, watching those shows, I know what to watch out for, you know? So you know they... they all serve purpose. I think every story does in a way. You know, I hope, I hope... you know, that's my... my drive I guess is that every story's got to teach something, you know, or you gotta... you wanna walk away and just I wanna... I want people when I tell a story that they think about it later on, you know, or mention it to somebody, what do you think about this? You know, because I like to try to get people thinking and differently.

But yeah, I mean we're all... we all are attracted to the stories because we are stories, you know? And in the end, that's what this whole world is, you know? We had the dinosaurs before us, you know? We don't know too much of their story but they lived a story here. And now we're kind of profiting off of that too but you know, we're generation, generations now, you know, people want to talk about us and this whole... especially this whole pandemic thing, that's a whole big story. That's what our generation will probably be known for, you know? Going through that. But yeah, I mean that's... that's where I see the two coming together and being attracted to each other it's just we are stories and we love stories.

SARA: That's interesting, I mean you're -- I'm sorry, I didn't mean to talk over you. I just I see... you know, I think when I think of folk tales, it's these... they are the stories but they're not... they're not like they are our stories but they're not like... I don't know, I guess I see them as I've always kind of held them in a different category and so I like how you're framing it is what I'm trying to say very poorly. So yeah, I'll leave it at that.

DANIEL: So I was gonna ask a question. So like I feel like these traditional stories are starting to kind of be showing up in different forms now in film and television and do you feel like you're still impactful for the world through these lenses? Like I know like TikTok you see a lot of like Native TikTokers telling the traditional stories and things. And do you feel that these are things that's... this has happened because we were still learning from these stories or what do you feel about like increased resonance of the last few years?

THOMAS: I would say we're still learning from them. I mean, we are still learning from but they're just... just increasingly high demand for them right now. We're running out of them. And you can see that watching TV and seeing oh, they're remaking that? Oh, they're remaking that? Oh, they really... they really are out of ideas, you know? I especially saw when I saw that dang Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot and I was like, like are they really doing this?

SARA: I thought the same thing!

THOMAS: Are we that dire for stories, you know?

SARA: That's like a drama, I think?

THOMAS: Yeah, that we're gonna take an old story and then change the genre of it, you know? It's like, well, what's next? Now we're gonna do Martin, the serious Martin?

SARA: Gina!

DANIEL: I guess if you think about that too with like how we've had a tough time finding traditional storytellers. Like one group in town disbanded. Two were like advanced in age and have like health issues and things and like... we're like you said we're running out of stories but we're also running out of storytellers.

THOMAS: That's true, that's true.

DANIEL: How do you feel this is something that like indigenous cultures can like fight, fight against? Like what are methods and ways just telling the stories or do you think there's more of that?

THOMAS: That's a really good point you just put up. I mean, as far as running out of storytellers because it is true. You know, I mean we do have an insurgence of, you know, screenwriters coming up right now and they're actually doing it pretty good now opposed to what they did in the past. And you know, we got their marketing good enough to where there's a demand for our stories now. And but we just got to be good at telling them right and telling them... you know, not letting the Hollywood get the best of us basically because they will rearrange the stories, they will make them more commercial. And because... you know, I did my stint through Hollywood back in 2005 and, you know, I got to see what it was really like and I didn't like it, I walked away from it. And... and I actually stopped writing for almost... almost 10 years because it totally uninspired me as a writer and storyteller that... and I got caught up in it, too. I was... I was on the verge of basically selling my soul when I didn't do it, I didn't want to do it. I'd rather... at that time I wanted to be a dad, a father more than I want to be a screenwriter or movie maker or whatever else we're trying to be.

But oh yeah, with the demand now, you know it's like I hope everybody, you know, really puts work into it to really, you know, not just succumb to what they want and, you know, try to please, please and I think it's why we haven't really been reached out to because we won't give our stories up so easily. You know, we never would. And a lot of them we can't tell, like I have stories in my tribe that I have told in one of my books but it wasn't... I created a new story of this character but there's certain stories we only tell in the winter time, certain stories only tell in summer time so some people will say, you know, hey, you can't tell that story. You know, you can't put that on TV because people watch it all year long and, you know, you're messing up, you know, the medicine behind it and the strength behind the power behind it and you're just basically just throwing it out to the world for them to use it up any way they want and do whatever they want with it.

And so like Natives are really protective of their stories but now there's... you know, now we're all getting out there and I'm hoping everybody does it right and does their work into telling the best story possible rather than what's going to sell a million dollars or what's going to sell marketing time for these TV shows, you know? And it's a hard... you know, that's the business of, you know, movie making and TV. It's art and business collision and it's... it's a heck of a thing to do. And it's good to watch though. I'm glad I'm in the background and not in the forefront because I remember I did want to be in the forefront when I was in Hollywood the first time but now I'm glad I didn't because I would have failed and probably crash badly. Well, I wouldn't have crashed bad, I just... my stories back then were bad. And you know, I'm telling good, better stories now. So I didn't like... you know, I won't even touch the stories I had back then because they were all rooted in me trying to be, you know, explicit and this and that, you know? Plus my upbringing so...

DANIEL: Do you feel as you get older your styles develop like not just like on the pen and paper but also like when you tell these stories like in an oral traditional sense or like... like how do you... and when that happens, do you... do you feel like this there's variations between how you tell the story now versus like when you heard it before? Like just how's your style change, do you feel?

THOMAS: Yeah and it comes more easier to me. I'm actually almost kind of freaked out sometimes at how easily it comes to me. Because it's like the other day, I mean I was writing on a script just the other day. And I had to come up with the creation story -- or I had to come up with like a little story the Natives tell, you know, and I came up with one called How Snake Lost His Legs. And then I came up with this whole story behind it and it came really easily and I was really shocked. I was like man, it's a... it's almost like a creation story and I came up with it pretty fast. And I guess... I guess to me it's just more about I trust my instincts more now. As far as when I was younger, I'd always try to find a better way and I always try to manipulate the stories better and always... I was really always shooting for shock value rather than to really teach people. And I always wanted to do... I was looking to do something different in every story. If you ever read my first book -- it's called The X-Indian Chronicles -- every story in there I wrote in a different style so that it could be studied and people see how you can write... you know, write a whole story just using dialogue. You know, writing stories messing with the sequence of time and you know... and being and doing a clever way of doing it, you know? And so yeah, you know, back then I was really into groundbreaking, you know, trying to groundbreak stuff. Now I'm not so much about groundbreaking. I just want to tell a good story. I want to see people smile laugh cry or be scared, you know, because I tell all genres. Now I'm more geared toward the audience walking away happy and remembering the story rather than being shocked by it and appalled by it.

Because you know, my first... my first short film was a film about these... a girl in Wichita played my wife in it, Sarah Baker I think's her name. And she went to Haskell with me. But it's about a group of guys who celebrate Columbus Day every year by killing a white guy. And it was a real harsh story. But... but he falls in love with a white girl at college and he comes back one year to practice tradition but he has to hide his girlfriend from his friends. But they discover it and he has to choose love or hate and he chooses love and then they end up beating them really bad because of it, you know? But he chooses love, you know? So from the beginning, I was always trying to, you know, get shock appeal. And that film I made for really not almost nothing. I didn't know how to make films. And then it went all over the film festival circuit. People were like... and that was weird because people either really loved it or really hated it. I was watching people walk out, get up and walk out like after the first five minutes. And I was... I used to be proud of that, you know? And I was like... but now I don't shoot for that now, like you see in my last short film it's about... you know, horror film and it's just about teaching you things not to do. With that particular film I did, I worked with the belief that Native children don't leave their favorite toy outside. And if they do, you don't bring it back in because a spirit attaches to it because it's more... it's so dear to that child and it knows it can get to that child through that toy. And so I made a little short film about that. And then that... that's the, you know, power of stories to teach, you know? So I guess, you know, aged. I'm more I guess I'm built more teaching and more a good story rather than shock value and trying to get my name out there. I guess ultimately that was probably the ultimate goal of me doing that shock value stuff early on was just to build my name up.

DANIEL: I just gotta say Chief: The World's Best Friend's Dog was in the chapter... in The Last Pow-Wow. Like I cried at the end of that. I love that story, like the dog... like for the listeners, there's a dog who has like lives... like he gets cursed by a deer woman I believe and he becomes immortal so he protects this town. It's just like the story of this rez dog and like how he protected his people and continues to protect. And it's like it was a great story and I think that's like... do you like adding new characters or do you like developing these stories and hoping that they continue like through other people? You know, like in traditional ways or do you just... when you make these new characters, are you just doing them for the book or do you like also tell these stories in other like ways?

THOMAS: I try to tell much as possible. I like... that's a good thing I like about, you know, the way I approach art is I can do all mediums. I started in acting, I went to directing, then I went to writing. I do editing, I edit everything. I score all my films. I wrote, I write music. And I do poetry. I used to... I was poetry slam champion down there in Kansas for a while around Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City area. So I do all mediums basically. So it's really good when I create characters because, you know, I can't take... I can't take them to different different mediums like poetry or in my book. But you will see a lot of crossovers in the future when I do come up my next book. It's already written. I'm just trying to figure out if I want to self-publish it or look for a publishing company. But Chief, Chief wasn't my creation. Chief was kind of my creation. My co-author came up with the idea we should do a story about a rez dog and I was just jogging one day and it all came to me. And I was like, yeah, this dog has a warbonnet that's tied to his head that it can't get off. You know, and it's got three legs and it's got three legs to give other beings a chance because they're so powerful and strong. And yeah and you know, my co-author didn't want me to kill him at the end and I was like -- well, you know it's... well, I shouldn't do that, spoiler alert.

SARA: Yeah.

THOMAS: But yeah, it is a... even he kind of teared up when I was telling him, yeah, he dies at the end is kind of how the story goes. He's like, "What? You can't do all that and just have him die!" And I was like, well, you know, people gotta die in a story for this book and he's gonna be a casualty.

But yeah, I mean creating characters are really fun because especially with that one I want to say because when I was writing a script for him, I got to tell more of this Chief story about how he got the warbonnet on his head. There's a lot more to it and then I about his... and then in a script he's more militant. He's very... he's very militant in the way he... he talks more in the script. You know, so yeah, to really get to know these characters and spend time with them and then watch them, you know, now that I can jump them from novel to script or to whatever, you know, I decide. You know, it's... it's really good. I mean, the characters to me are are real people. Almost, you know, in my mind it's like... it's like Chief, I know exactly what Chief looks like, you know? I mean it's... when I write stories with him, I'm actually sitting in a room wherever he's at with this with my characters I write. And that one's always a fun one to write about. And I'll actually write stories about Chief just to kind of even be in the presence of that character, you know, just because I like it. And I'll do that with other characters I have too as well. Stories that'll never, you know, see light of day I'll write just for my pleasure basically to really get to know these characters because I want... I have a feeling I'll have to write for them again later which you know I might for Chief and a couple other ones.

SARA: Let's take a short break and then we'll come back. We'll talk more about your book and a little bit more about traditional storytelling so we'll be right back.


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DANIEL: And we're back. You're listening to Read. Return. Repeat. We're here with That Native Thomas.

Thomas, you've written a book. Tell us about The Last Pow-Wow that you wrote with Steven Paul Judd.

THOMAS: Last Pow-Wow is basically... it's a book of nine journeys. People go into this pow-wow, this mysterious pow-wow that they find out only allows full bloods into it, full-blood Native Americans. Mixed bloods can't get into it so the mixed bloods protest it. And it shows that it's kind of a government conspiracy at the end, you know, you find out. But it's all the spiritual, you know, and all the traditional stuff of different tribes. You know, every nine, all those nine characters they're all from different tribes. I try to put something notable and Native culture throughout it all. I mean, we talked about earlier. All the big pow-wows are named in there, all the main big mythology figures that we have are in The Last Pow-Wow. Issues regarding Native issues are in The Last Pow-Wow. And our... one of our biggest end of times prophecies is in there as well. And one chapter is actually straight fiction. I don't know if you got to that chapter yet or not but --

DANIEL: I'm actually almost done.

THOMAS: -- about how Abraham Lincoln had... you know, was it 27 Dakota warriors hanging, was the biggest mass hanging in America. So you know, so as bad as you know America wants to portray Abraham Lincoln as its, you know, savior, no he was not. He he still didn't see Native Americans as human beings. He was one of the presidents that did a lot of bad to Natives as well. And so it's like... you know, that just kind of exposes that. And it's implemented into the story, you know, why this... why this story's taking place at where it's taken and why it's taking place and what... what past trauma, you know, generational trauma has caused all of this and you know. But that's basically how The Last Pow-Wow is, what it's about. It's... I try to make one of... me and Steve try to write the most one of the most Native books ever written basically is what kind of one of our goals I guess it was. You don't want people to read this book and say, man, that was a Native book, you know? I mean, there's real stuff there, you know? I think one story we tackle meth addiction, you know? The character's mom's hooked on meth, you know? And you know, that resonates on a lot of reservations, you know, and everyone's been through that or some lot of our native people been through that know characters like that, you know? And so, you know, we... so we try to keep it real as possible. And you know, then we do the spiritual with the stories, you know, with this girl who has ghost of butterflies coming out of her mouth, you know? And I think we do good telling like a mythology story, you know? So it's a weird balance. It's... some stories are funny, some are romantic, some are scary, some are dramatic, some are very traditional. So you know, it'd be hard to really put the book on, you know, a genre. I wouldn't... I think it's just Native American literature is all I could really describe it as.

DANIEL: So when you were... so The Last Pow-Wow was set during like modern times like 21st century but it features a lot of traditional characters. Were there concerns about contemporizing those characters and did you do any research to prepare for this? And were there other examples that you considered, like have you seen it like this done like in any other like place that that might have inspired you I guess?

THOMAS: I don't think so. I think, you know, I was talking about groundbreaking, you know, in my early in my career I wanted to be a groundbreaker and I think that's where this one is. I don't think I've ever read a book like it or was trying to be like another book either as well. And contemporary, that's kind of my thing. I think mixing contemporary stories with old stories, I've always done that. Like telling a, you know, version of a trickster with a trickster as a man rather than a coyote, you know? I've done that kind of type of story before. And I had the privilege to work with Steven Paul Judd which, you know, his art does as well? You know, mixes contemporary with old stuff and he's really good at doing that and so to have his eye and to have him use his eye to his brain to tell, you know, to try to put that into a story because Chief is kind of his thing. It's his brainchild, you know, and a couple other characters in there. And to you know be able to bring him alive and make him contemporary was really... it's kind of hard and kind of, you know, it's a balance. How much knowledge do we give this person of traditional beliefs and how much does he believe it? How much is... you know, is he gonna want to, you know, go to Taco Bell rather than, you know, eat a traditional meal of this and that, you know? Coming straight out of a sweat meet, you know, going to Taco Bell rather than waiting for, you know, elders to cook a meal or people, families to cooking meals. And just different stuff you have to really pay attention to I guess. And I think with The Last Pow-Wow, I think we did a really good job. You know, like I said, we put them in different settings, every character and a lot of them almost all of them are contemporary and we pull it off really well I think.

As far as, you know, just being modern Native American storyteller, I think all of us have to learn how to do that. You know, I'm seeing that even on the TV shows going out right now, Natives doing, you know, they're... they're being forced to make us contemporary and we can adjust it, you know? I mean it's part of the storytelling process is, you know, where you're gonna put your character and how you gonna make this character thrive? I think my biggest issues with mine is cell phones, you know? Because you know you truthfully, if you want to be truthfully about a modern story right now, you have to put in there that they checked their cell phone or they saw this on their cell phone and everything. But you know as a writer, you don't really think of that, you know? It's cooler when the character just finds out something through doing it or showing it, you know? And that they're not finding it out by a text message or seeing a video online, you know? But that sooner or later has to sleep in our writing, you know? And it's seeping on TV now because now you're seeing shows where they do the text message and they write it across the screen, you know? So I'm like, oh, a script. They wrote that in the script, you know, to be shown you know so I was like people are doing it. That's the only trouble I have making it contemporary is just remembering stuff like that you know that, oh yeah, we gotta bring them back to the real age. You know, I'm still trying to bring my characters in the '90s and you know, I need to move them up a couple of decades.

But yeah, I mean it's... it's a good balance and it can actually help the story because you can find a new way of telling that story when you have a car to use or something modern or a modern even belief system which I'm finding a lot of. I mean, I like this really cool story. I can't tell it but I'm kind of working on my head right now, it kind of involves that to where it's like, oh, how do I do something in modern age but it's old story? And it's challenging but it's fun too.

SARA: So yeah. Well just that's great.

DANIEL: That's great.

SARA: Just giving me lots to think about. And you know, I'm excited to read the book. I'm gonna just go ahead and throw it out there. We're going to have a couple of copies of The Last Pow-Wow in our collection so you know if we have convinced you to read this book so far, then hopefully you'll come and check it out from us.

That was to our listeners, Thomas. I didn't actually say that. That's not to you. But you can come check it out from us too if you want.

So often in this tradition of storytelling, people will include art. They'll include music and dance. Why do you think that it's so important to include that performative aspect to the story?

THOMAS: I think the same reason why you know why we have different places to shop. Different places, you know, different clothes to buy. We all have different tastes and storytelling is entertainment, you know? Some people like to be entertained by stories being told within their music like Broadway musicals, some people like to be entertained by stories told and dance and which is same way musicals, pow-wows. I really like it when I go to pow-wows and they, you know, they tell a certain certain dance that tells a certain story. Those are really good to watch and, you know, really hard to catch these days because you know storytellers are becoming less and less and you don't see it, you don't really see it too much anywhere where you see, you know, elder just sitting around telling stories and people watching. And you know, I was telling my wife I think a couple weeks ago I missed... you know, my aunts were really masters at doing that with us growing up. They would implement, you know, slamming doors without us knowing it, you know? Getting read in, you know, having it read in. And they had the whole scary thing down. You know, one of them would be outside ready to bang on the window in a part of the story. And so really, you know, to add the other elements into it, I guess a sense, you know? You have the sense of hearing this and substance, you know? And I mean like I said, I make music too so it really is healing for me to make music as I write. I actually like when I'm writing screenplays, I'm usually when I'm about to write a scene, I'll usually write the music for that scene even though if I'm never going to ever direct it, I never no chance of directing, I still would like to know what that music in that scene would sound like and it helps me write that. I'll record it and then I'll just listen to that little loop of whatever I made as I write that scene. And you know, it actually gives me kind of a score to the writing as well. And I do that a lot, you know? And I... you know, like I went and watched... I went to a Native comedy show this past weekend I had a native singer there named Tia Wood or Neo Wood, one of the two. But she would tell stories that she sang and, you know, where the story, where this song came from, where, you know, it came from, you know, how she was feeling on the rez and this and that And then to hear her put that experience into words and music is like ultimate gratification of hearing a story, you know? And ultimately they're made to entertain and that's like ultimate form of entertaining when you can sing and dance and summon. You know, for as long as, you know, all of our cultures have have dance and song so it's part of who we are as human beings, we have this need to express ourselves through just dancing to music. And you know, makes our bodies and our minds feel free, relieve stress. You know, I'm sure it has something to do with our biology too as well, you know? It kind of helps in a way. Like I remember -- well, that's getting off subject.

SARA: That's okay, go ahead.

THOMAS: I went to a puberty pow-wow one time where they were doing a... a woman was just in their dancing the whole, you know, two days and three days straight, however long they do it. And dance a certain way and I was like, what's going on there, you know? And you know, it was real intriguing to me but it's like, oh, they dance like that because it helps her build her muscles up in her inner thigh area or whatever and she's going to ultimately later on in life it's going to help her in childbirth, you know? So this is kind of her way, you know, our way of getting her muscles ready and knowing her... you know, getting her ready for puberty and motherhood and all that. And I thought that's weird, you know? So we have dance to really teach us how to do things like that and prepare us for life. And some of our pow-wow songs or pow-wow dances do do that, you know? We have like little kids dances that teach us not to talk to strangers and then you have war dances when you're ready... you know, the warriors are ready to go out to war. They're showing their dance moves off to their families and to the tribe and everyone else. You know, they get... they're ready for war and they're celebrating it. And you know, just it's just part of our culture, you know? I mean, even now as we watch TV, you know, watching Stranger Things last night, you know, I recognized things like the score, you know? And anytime, you know, they throw dancemen in there, they will. And it's just fun to watch. It's even fun to watch, you know, it's just a form of entertaining just like storytelling keeps just going day by day. And, you know, somewhere in our culture it's part of who we are, part of what we do for fun. I don't know why I like to do it but I'll shake a leg here.

SARA: And there it's also like cathartic in a way probably.

THOMAS: Especially if it does enhance my storytelling because I like to get really involved. You know, it's part of Kiowas, you know, our tribe, we're known for telling stories and we use our hands and we do we go crazy. If you ever see this movie called Dreamcatcher I think it was -- no, DreamKeeper where they tell those stories, there's an all-Native movie --

DANIEL: The Hallmark one, yeah.

THOMAS: They do a Kiowa one but the Kiowa one they're all like going crazy with the hands and how they're telling stories and talking. I'm like... I remember telling someone when I was watching, I was like, do we really, we don't really talk like that. You know, as I was telling them that, I didn't feel like I was doing it.

That Native Thomas demonstrates talking with his hands

DANIEL: And it's kind of like you have that whole aspect of like dancing and TikTok and things now. Like dancing just like storytelling, like you see a lot of that happening too.

THOMAS: With TikTok, what's going to be happening a lot more with storytellers so the future storytellers are going to implement that, you know? And telling shorter stories basically.

SARA: Right? In a tiny little like nugget. So speaking of TikTok and moving these stories online, I mean, you know, so it's a new format it's a new digital age. Although it's like we've been doing this for a little while now so I don't know if it's a new digital age. But do you think it's possible to come up with new stories, like have all the stories already been told? You know and I would say that a lot of stories are even... you know, we were talking about -- what were we talking about? Well, one where it was like just remaking it and remaking it and remaking it with the new spin -- oh, Fresh Prince.

DANIEL: Yeah.

SARA: Right? Like are there any other new stories out there?

THOMAS: Well, I remember I was in Hollywood, you know, getting really... I won a fellowship at ABC Disney, you know, and they went down there and they trained me. You know, gave me probably the highest type of training for a screenwriter can get, you know? I mean, I was in front of the CEOs of Disney and ABC and they put us in rooms with big people and and let the big people teach us whatever we wanted to learn or what we had questions with. And one of the interesting things one of them told me I remember was there's only three stories you can tell. That's... I can't even remember what they were, like stranger comes to town, stranger leaves town, and I think boy meets girl. That was something like that. It was like three of them was like that.

SARA: Falls in love with stranger?

THOMAS: And I was like oh, and then I started breaking down my stories seeing if they fit one of those three categories and just about all of them did. And I was like oh, you might be some right to that.

But yeah, so and I guess so to me there's not there's probably not new stories but unless we get into you know conspiracy theories where, you know, aliens are gonna come to earth and start and then we get to learn their stories. And that's probably what we'll do too. We want to know their story. Hey, what's your story? Because we seek new stories, you know?

We got all the stories around here on earth. What y'all got going on up there, you know?

[LAUGHTER]

What kind of conflicts do y'all have?

SARA: Well, then it's still a stranger coming to town.

THOMAS: Yeah, it is. But I guess it's just new ways of telling and that's even getting harder these days, you know? It's like wow, how do you... you know, that's where this, you know, like I said the demand for Native American stories because it's... they believe it's a new way of telling stories or just new stories. But it's kind of the same. But like I said, it just... but just different way of telling it, our way of telling it where we kind of held spiritual side and, you know, the importance of the land and animals and our connection with it. And I think people... and you know, hopefully that'll help, you know, getting our stories out there where we can put that out there more especially with climate change going on, you know? Like hey, you know, we've been telling stories a lot. You know I was watching the fire documentary last night about when Paradise, this town Paradise in California went coming up with flames. And we moved here to Oregon coast because the smoke got so bad in southern Oregon that we... you know, my breathing was affected by it and everything. But I was watching that fire documentary. Dang, I got off story again.

[LAUGHTER]

But I was watching... what was that saying about before?

SARA: You were talking about the new ways to tell stories.

DANIEL: We could just go to the next one.

THOMAS: Oh, it was the way Natives did it, you know, that it was for a reason, you know, they're speaking these new stories and then climate change is what I was talking about and I was watching them on that show last night and, you know, the Natives even way before colonizers came had a way, had a system to, you know, do all these small brush fires around their communities so that fires kind of didn't jump into their communities. There's a certain way. But when colonizers came, they saw them just burning up land thinking, hey you're just burning the land, you need to stop doing that and make them stop and outlined it. And that's part of where, you know, all these fires are just getting out of control. Because especially if killing, you know, demolishing these towns because they're not building a little protective area around it. Even when they're asked to do it -- because I was watching the documentary, the town had to vote on it to make it a law to do it -- all the townspeople voted against it, you know? It's like...

You know, but these were stories that they've been saying Native people had been doing this for a long time to keep the, you know, the fires at bay and you know helps fight forest fires. And had different ways of fighting it too, Natives did back in the old days. And I spent some time down there to know about that, you know? But it's... but they it all passed down through their stories and it's even within their stories of how they do it, you know? They don't even write it down. They just know how to do it and, you know, so stories just has a big impact on the world and us, you know? And finding new ones, just yeah, that's why we watch TV and that's why we waiting on the next TV show, great TV show. You know, and just to kind of... and it's also a social thing. We all want to be in a loop and be able to talk to people about the stories that we saw, you know, the newest story that everyone's looking for that everyone thinks is new. But it's, you know, Stranger Things is basically the same thing every season. White people don't see that, you know? Every Marvel movie is the same, you know? It's like why, you know, I stopped watching. It got so, so formulaic, you know? So you know, just the formula just so I can guess everything, you know? Knowing something's coming, know when I need to go bathroom because, you know, all right this is where they slow down things down for 15 minutes. And you know, so yeah, it's... we strive to... you know, I don't... I just think there's new ways of telling stories. In a way I guess in a way you can say there's new stories if you never knew that character, you never heard of that character there can be new stories that way. Because we all don't know each other. We're never going to all know each other. You can always create a new character that can make you want to follow that character through a journey, you know? But you know, that comes with the characterization more than storytelling though. That's a whole different thing. That's how I feel about that.

DANIEL: Do you have any advice for anyone listening that might like want to be a storyteller, like things they can do to be a good storyteller?

THOMAS: Yes. Write, write, write and redraft, redraft, redraft. Like my first book, you're reading the 24th draft of it. The Last Pow-Wow, you're reading the 13th draft. I know I should have done 20 at least but I was kind of excited, I shouldn't... you know, I jumped the gun on that one. We both did, me and my co-author. But you know, it's still doing what it does, you know? And still selling copies and still getting out there and it's in classrooms where I wanted to be. That that was my biggest is to get in classrooms too to teach Native students how, you know, because I took writing classes and... and I got to see how different stories were written, it was mind-blowing to me. That I didn't have... it didn't have to be a certain amount of pages, didn't have to be, you know, this and that. I can do anything, you know? And so I kind of hope to do the same with The Last Pow-Wow: inspire. Inspire the great Native American writer that's going to come out pretty soon. It's not going to be me, it's not anyone out there right now but they're on their way up and I hope The Last Pow-Wow's in their curriculum of things they've read they've read when they do make it.

SARA: That's awesome.

Thank you so much. This was just a real pleasure to talk to you, kind of dive into your brain a little bit.

DANIEL: Is there a place where people can access your -- or what?

SARA: No, no, no. That's great, keep asking.

DANIEL: Is there a place that people can check you out like YouTube, your website?

THOMAS: Yeah, if you go to YouTube, I got two different channels. Just type in That Native Thomas. One of the channels is my new stand-up comedy character I created. I was experimenting, I uploaded a lot of videos of that. And that's going to be used for the future reference. I'm still not done with that. Taking a break from it though. And then you'll see another That Native Thomas channel which is all my old short films. And I kind of in the description you can actually read how I've made each one of them because I actually wanted people to use it to kind of learn how to make films. I did it without knowing nothing because I'm a self-taught filmmaker, I'm a self-taught screenwriter and I'd had to learn from nothing. And I basically... luckily I was an actor first because in reality I'm just acting like I knew how to direct acting, like I knew how to make film. And you know, it's basically I wasn't comfortable until I got a fifth short film that actually called myself a director even though the films I made before them went all over the country that I still didn't feel comfortable holding the camera.

You know, hopefully you'll see Last Pow-Wow on a TV show soon. You know, we're working on an option by two big production companies, Bad Robot and Monkeypaw which is Jordan Peele's company. They're both interested in optioning it. We're trying to decide which one to go with and which one is --

DANIEL: That's awesome.

SARA: Yeah, congratulations.

THOMAS: -- more serious about getting out to everybody. You ain't seen the last of The Last Pow-Wow. And then hopefully we're gonna reboot it to be released again too as well. That's another thing we're working on. And I did the audiobook for it so you can catch it on audiobook as well. You can hear my voice. It isn't as it is as deep and dark as I thought it was. I was thinking I remember going into that sound booth thinking I was going to sound like a dark deep voice guy from Boyz II Men. But no, I don't sound like that, I don't sound like I thought I sounded.

DANIEL: I saw like on reviews people were saying like he needs to do more audiobooks, like people were really impressed with your book, like on the Audible review people were really impressed with your voice.

THOMAS: That's good because I ain't read any of that. I have to check it out. It might inspire me. I actually do have one I'm about to release on there now I could use this. It's a short story I did called The Black Tipi which I think I posted on my Facebook and it's on that YouTube channel and I think about it. But I'm actually about to put it into audiobook form even though it's only like 10 minutes. But it's a scary... but a lot of people heard that so it was really scary and they really thought, they really liked it for Halloween so I'm gonna try to get it. I'm trying to teach myself how to upload audiobooks into Audible so that's gonna be my first test to see if I can... I already have it recorded and everything, I just got to upload it. Because I do have my own publishing company, Hosstyle Publishing, which I released Last Pow-Wow, and I hope to release more stuff and that's why I'm... I'm learning because I have some children's book on as e-books through my publishing company called Underwear Boy Warparties. And kind of like Captain Underpants but Native version where you can read it and it has all the sound effects to make as you read it when if you read it to your kid, it'll say make a blow-up sound here or something like that, you know? And they're really good children's books. That, I mainly just created to see if I could make e-books, learn how to make e-books.

And so now with Black Tipi I'm doing the same for audiobooks. I'm learning how to make audiobooks and that way when it comes down to it, I don't have to rely on a publisher to steal all my stuff and all my rights because that's the biggest concern of my self-publishing because I don't want people to own my rights. Because my first book, I don't have no rights to. Or I did acquire TV rights and e-book rights recently. I want to be able to own my own rights. It's just it's like The Last Pow-Wow we can turn into a TV show we do whatever we want without answering nobody right now, you know? And I like that feeling. So these production companies are liking working with us because there's no middleman, you know? So we can... it's like me and Steve own the rights to these stories, these are our stories. And that's where I'm trying to get onto my publishing company that I don't have to do that. And help other Natives don't have to worry about that too because it is a big deal, especially with the high demand for Native stories right now. They're going to try to steal your stories and they're going to try to steal your rights, you know? So many people like me that kind of know a little bit about it help other people, you know, watch your stuff because it's Hollywood, that's how it runs. They buy, they buy your rights to your stories and everything so you have to watch it, think about that when you sign that contract.

SARA: Yeah.

DANIEL: Thank you so much again.


Commercial break

VOICE: Did you know that the Wichita Public Library has a wealth of local history resources that you can use? From old yearbooks to newspaper archives to genealogy databases, you can find it all here. Located on the second floor of the Advanced Learning Library, our knowledgeable staff can help you with every task from finding newspaper articles that made Wichita history to researching your family tree. For more information, visit wichitalibrary.org/research/localhistory.


[MUSIC]

SARA, VOICEOVER: Before we wrap up today's episode, let's listen to three reading recommendations for category 6 from our Wichita Public Library staff.

CASSIE: Hello, my name is Cassie and I'm part of the programming team here at the Wichita Public Library. Today I'm going to talk about a fiction book based on mythology, category 6 of ReadICT. My recommendation is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Classical historian Miller not only tells Homer's well-known and beloved tale of the Trojan War, but presents it in such a way that readers are immediately transported to ancient Greece, meeting gods and goddesses and legendary characters such as Apollo, Athena, Helen of Troy, Odysseus, Hector and the Trojan War's ensuing tragedy. This age-old tale of Greece's greatest hero Achilles is given a new twist by Miller: the point of view is told from Patroclus, Achilles's great and beloved friend. I think this uniqueness is what I loved most about the book. We all know the legend and we know the end, but Miller through Patroclus presents through elegant yet simple prose the story with a different dimension when we see the deeply conflicted brave warrior Achilles choosing his tragedy enriched by layers of love and friendship. Author Rick Riordan, author of the amazing Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, says, "Patroclus in a Hemingway-like directness cuts through the legend of the hero and shows the mortal side of the demigod. The Song of Achilles can serve as an introduction or counterpoint to the study of The Iliad. It certainly made the story new and vibrant for me despite how many times I've read Homer." For more reading recommendations, visit wichitalibrary.org/readict.

MISTI: My name is Misti and I'm a technology trainer at the Advanced Learning Library and this is my recommendation for ReadICT's category 6, a book based on mythology or folklore, called Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning. Meet MacKayla Lane -- Mac for short -- a small town Georgia native that has very little worries in her pretty pink world up until Mac's family gets a call from Dublin, Ireland reporting her sister has been murdered. Soon after, Mac realizes her sister had left a frantic voice message warning Mac she needed to get to Dublin and find the Sinsar Dubh. After learning Dublin's police force is no longer searching for her sister's murderer, Mac has had enough and leaves Georgia for Dublin. Not long after landing, Mac learns in Dublin outside appearances cannot be trusted and she is one of the few that can see the monsters within. Mac learns she is one of a few sidhe-seers, a group of women with special abilities and the capability to see the Seelie and Unseelie Fae left in existence. What's more, Mac has the capability to track the disastrous Sinsar Dubh, which catches the attention of two foreboding men after it. Mac is left wondering if she can find the book that can possibly destroy the world first and locate her sister's murderer before something disastrous happens to her. Darkfever is the first book in a large adult fiction series, deep with Irish and Scottish mythology and folklore. This has been my recommendation for category 6. For more reading recommendations, visit wichitalibrary.org/readict.

MICHELLE: My name is Michelle from the Wichita Public Library circulation department and my pick for ReadICT category 6, mythology and folklore, is Cassandra Speaks by Elizabeth Lesser. The title comes from the myth of Cassandra. Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy, but when she refused his advances, he cursed her and said that she would not be believed. The subtitle of the book is "when women are the storytellers, the human story changes," and the author talks about finding the place in yourself to have the strength to speak up and also finding the place in yourself where you listen to others and listen and look at things from a different point of view. For more reading recommendations for ReadICT, go to wichitalibrary.org/readict.

DANIEL, VOICEOVER: And that about does it for another episode of Read. Return. Repeat. We hope you enjoyed exploring category 6 with us. The show notes will have a complete list of the books and films mentioned today. You can request any of these books by calling (316) 261-8500 or visiting wichitalibrary.org.

SARA, VOICEOVER: Keeping in with the theme of today's episode, we thought it would be cool to leave you with a poem by Blackbear Bosin, famed local artist behind our beloved keeper of the plains and so many other cool pieces you can find at the Mid-America All-Indian Museum. It is with their permission that we share this poem with you today.

JENNY, VOICEOVER: The Challenge by Blackbear Bosin (Kiowa and Comanche).

In the days when creatures like this bear
Roamed the great plains...
In the days when the buffaloes were plenty
Stories were told and retold
About happenings such as the hunters viewed
From atop a hill. The stories said how they fought
And also how they did not...
For no one ever became a victor.

So it was when the two came face to face,
With mutual instinct knowing
Both their strength to be conserved
For their kind to continue to survive.
But to satisfy their individual spirits,
The ritual of battle
Had to be enacted as prescribed.
And only when their fire had been consumed,
Would they walk away from one another,
Each a victor, each a lord on his domain

Only the foolish challenges the laws of nature...

SARA, VOICEOVER: Thank you to the Mid-America All-Indian Museum for allowing us to share that poem with you. Thank you to That Native Thomas for talking with us today.

DANIEL, VOICEOVER: To participate in the ReadICT reading challenge, please visit wichitalibrary.org/readict. Stay connected with other ReadICT participants on the ReadICT challenge Facebook page. Find out what's trending near you, post book reviews, look for local and virtual events, and share book humor with like-minded folks. To join the group, search #ReadICT challenge on Facebook and click join.

SARA, VOICEOVER: You can follow this podcast through the anchor app or stream episodes on whatever platform you listen to podcasts. If you like what you heard today, be sure to subscribe and share with all your friends.

DANIEL, VOICEOVER: This has been a production of the Wichita Public Library and a big thanks goes out to our production crew and podcast team.

Books, Authors & Topics Mentioned in This Episode

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