During her nearly ten-year tenure at the college, Straus helped
design the school's core curriculum, which includes a mandatory
field project. She also focused much of her efforts on recruitment,
considering higher education key to Native-American self-determination.
"There has been a huge increase in the number of Indian college
students and graduate students in the past decade," she notes,
"meaning that the leadership in Indian communities can more and
more rely on Indian professionals."
Straus has also played an active role in mapping the direction
of Red Path, founded in 1994 to encourage the city's Native Americans
to recognize the importance of their cultural heritage through
drama. Born in an Uptown basement, the company is now headquartered
at Truman College and has staged performances and readings of
folktales set on reservations, in the workplace, and on urban
streets. Two-Rivers, the company's founding artistic director,
won a 1999 American Book Award for Survivor's Medicine: Short
Stories (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998).
a recent snowy January night, Two-Rivers headlined the weekly
open-mike poetry reading at Café Aloha, located a few blocks from
NAFPA. He shared a selection from his new three-part poetry play,
Peeking out of Amerika's Museums, a spirited meditation
on Native-American identity, urban Native-American life, and threats
to the environment. The moody, at times humorous, tone of the
poem the Ojibwa tribal member chose to read in the alcohol-free
bar run by Bosnian proprietors was enhanced by the accompaniment
of a friend playing jazz on a Yamaha keyboard. In the dim and
smoky room, he described "pigeonholes in the early dawn" and the
tension his character feels with a cop who calls him "Chief."
As an encore, he read one of his earliest poems, "I'm Not Tonto."
His long, thick black hair salted with gray swished back and forth
as he punctuated his point that he's not "a Hollywood Indian"
aiming to please.
is now working with Two-Rivers on a Red Path program to nurture
Native-American children's aesthetic appreciation for theater.
They earlier co-edited Skins: Drum Beats From City Streets
(Barrick & Associates, 1994), a collection of local Native-American
poetry. "The verbal arts have been a longtime interest and strength
in Indian communities but they haven't always been stressed in
urban Indian communities," says Straus. "It's exciting
because now it's in the waves. It's important for people writing
about the Indian experience that some comes from the urban Indian
recalling Deloria's admonitions regarding the arrogance of anthropologists,
Straus is reluctant to speak on behalf of the city's Native Americans
about the future of their community. But she hasn't given up the
tenets of the action anthropology his words first pushed her toward:
She's quick to note that she's meeting later in the day with a
group of attorneys interested in forming a Chicago firm that specializes
in Native-American issues. "It's a fledgling group but it demonstrates
the exciting potential of the community," she says. And it provides
Straus with yet another chance to practice what she teaches.