Fall Campaign Spotlight: Tyrone Ross Thompson
As part of our end of year fundraising campaign we are sharing interviews with artists from across Washington State. We ask about what changes they are seeing in their work and community since the pandemic, and how we can best support artists now and in the future. Read more and make a gift today!
This week we spoke with artist Tyrone Ross Thompson. Thompson is Wyampum Nez Perce of the Columbia River. He is the grandson of Moses Jerome Thompson who was the son of Henry “Pi-usha” Thompson and his father was Tommy “Kuni” Thompson who was regarded as the Last Salmon Chief of Celilo. The direct lineage of the founders of Celilo Fish Committee who opposed the Dalles Dam. He is an alumnus of Columbia Basin College and Eastern Washington University.
How has moving through the pandemic impacted your work?
It helped to learn through zoom and Instagram live readings—I had the honor of sharing my stories as a featured reader and had around twenty virtual readings. I was able to get a few more features and share with areas like New York, Los Angeles, and various other cities, and learned other people’s stories. I met some incredible people. But personally, there was a lot of loss and I wasn’t able to attend funerals. That was an awful experience because for one part of my life I was able to share poetry, yet there were rapid losses—there were few people I didn’t hear about dying until almost a year later. So, there was this large creative sharing but also a period of time where I stopped and gave up trying because it felt like I wasn’t important. I doubted myself for a bit and started deleting work from social media, but after that doubt there was always a chance moment where I’d be asked to share and or read content. It was quite exhausting but empowering.
What’s possible for your work and community now that wasn’t before?
I’m not sure. I lost my mother and it feels like she didn’t get to see anything I wanted to do. She knew of the goals but didn’t see the idea become a deed. I feel like I just need a chance moment where I can find a person and or network to develop ideas into giving back and creating for the long term by creating open mics and a space to share and learn stories from others. Because of losses, I ended up quitting from a master’s program, but have goals of where I’d like to continue if I do continue to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in poetry.
What still needs to change?
I need to find resources and develop love for myself. I have seriously doubted what I am here for and at times I feel like there is no space for me. Coming from Celilo Falls as a lineage, my original home is buried, yet I don’t feel like I have the support I need to feel like I belong anywhere. Because of all the death, it has caused an introspection of how or where I can create this experience into a continuing story as a Wyampum and Nez Perce.
What support do you think artists and artist communities need right now, and in the future?
I think land acknowledgement is useless. Because for seven years I’ve introduced myself in spaces of poetry and my respective tribes and people have still mistaken me for another tribe because of where I reside. I feel like it has been used in a way that is dismissive and to say, “well we said it so it’s good enough.” For my experience, it hasn’t helped recently. I don’t know how to fix that or have the answer. Because while indigenous people are finding new spaces to enter, I still can’t even get people to remember my tribes.
Also, the finance part is something I have no knowledge about in regard to creating events to pay features such as an open mic or workshops. I’d like to create more than an open mic and have literature be a constant source available to create in the Yakima Valley. I had always imagined as a personal goal that poetry can be the start of creating a space that grows into something like the Harlem Renaissance. I want to see the opportunity to bring others into our community and let others see a potential that can be created. I’d rather see success and not see tragedy and death on our front-page newspapers or social media. I want to see a resurgence of indigenous kinships in our communities. In such a way that others state, “I want to live with them because look at that support system and the potential we can possibly develop and create together.”
Why is it important to support individual artists right now?
For myself, I started with poetry because I heard too many peers talk about suicide. I started sharing so others wouldn’t feel that despair of isolation. I heard of rapid death at college where communities buried peers at a rate of ten to twelve a week. In my own experience there is rapid death. In ten months, our kinship buried four people. With my artistry I want to tell my story but not in a way that reacts to or guards my sanity and identity. But I can’t do that if I feel like my isolation is creating doubt. I need a supportive community to help build for others. I have a sliver of hope at times because there is constant death to the point where I just want to isolate, but that feeling turns into empathy when I have these small moments of being asked to share. Because I am able to share my perspective and story, I hope it helps someone else and that potential of influence is unknown. It creates possibility when artists are supported.
“Instead of Resolve” by Tyrone Ross Thompson:
Feelings of detachment
neglected knowledge & resentment
Not trusting anyone and guarded
Scolded again and not loved.
Neglected knowledge & resentment
Assumed ignorance instead of resolve
scolded again and limited love.
Where’s the connection to ancient sentiment.
Assumed ignorance instead of resolve.
I need revered songs not English misunderstanding.
Where’s the connection to ancient sentiment
Tenet doubted & kinship connection disappearing.
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