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Press Release

Release Date: September 16, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Highschool student becomes published poet after finding renewed interest in First American heritage

SPOKANE, Wash. – A Native American Literature course reintroduced a Washington state student to his heritage and sparked renewed interest in discovering the heritage of other First Americans.

The course, sanctioned by Eastern Washington University and taught by Mary Fruchter, also resulted in Forrest Yegge, a Chickasaw, becoming a published poet and embarking on a trip to Minnesota to attend his first pow wow and United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference.

“It was so wonderful,” Yegge said. “There must have been hundreds of represented tribes. We heard speakers from the Blackfoot Nation, Navajo, Osage, Ojibwe, amongst many, many others. It was amazing being able to represent our local tribe.

“I had hoped to meet others at UNITY representing the Chickasaw Nation, but at the very least I was there on our tribe’s behalf, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to represent our people. It was a priceless experience, and being as it’s an annual event, it would be great to see more Chickasaw representation next year,” he said.

His interest in attending the conference was sparked by the literature course.

“It was comprehensive. We did not focus only on issues facing tribes in the Pacific Northwest, but our instructor introduced most First American tribes to the class. We read and talked about the Osage and ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’” Yegge said. “It is one of my favorite books now. We also studied a poem by Linda Hogan, who is Chickasaw,” he added.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” examines the dozens of murders of Osage tribal members in the early 1920s. They were slain for their mineral headrights that would be inherited by European spouses, wealthy Osage County ranchers and oil barons seeking mineral leases.

A movie based on the book was filmed in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in 2021. It will be released in 2023 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, who also starred in 2016’s “The Revenant” which has a Chickasaw connection.

Chickasaw master bowyer and ancient weapons expert Eric Smith constructed all of the First American weapons used in “The Revenant.”

Smith continues crafting weapons for moviemakers and television programs. He resides in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma.

Internationally acclaimed Chickasaw writer/poet Linda Hogan’s “Song for the Turtles in the Gulf” was studied and inspired Yegge to put pen to paper for his own poem. Hogan, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in fiction for “Mean Spirit,” is a motivational speaker, author and poet. She resides in Denver, Colorado.

With Hogan’s poem as inspiration, along with extensive research of his Chickasaw blood and tribal heritage, Yegge wrote “The Eddies of the Water Where We First Walked.”

In the eddies of the water where we first walked, 
the water, 
from where we first took breath, 
the water, 
from where we birthed and bled, and limb by limb, evolved and grew and changed. 
We discovered and wandered, we wandered and ventured, we learned and grew: 
grew tongues to hold story, grew children to hold legacy, grew hands to hold hands. 
With growth came wisdom, and wisdom brought love, 
all given by the eddies where we first walked. 
But time brought mutiny, and red became the eddies’ water. 
From our baskets grew crates. 
From our canoes grew ships that spilled oil and filth. 
The black gold of misused power diluted the sincerity of our origins. 
The blood of our people. The children and legacy. The essence of our love.
All lost and forgotten in the eddies of the water where we first walked.

“I have a one-and-a-half hour FaceTime call where my grandfather and I discuss my family’s Chickasaw heritage. I cherish that recording. We talked about our ancestors, and I learned from my grandfather that his mother was told not to mention his First American status because it was looked down upon,” Yegge said.

His grandfather, Don Yegge, is retired, a member of the Chickasaw Warriors Society, and serves as a veteran’s advocate.

“It is so cool to discover how we are connected to the Chickasaw Nation. He made it his mission to travel to Oklahoma and set foot on that allotment land. It is something I wish to do also,” Yegge said.

“In the 1950s, it was considered shameful to be First American, and that just makes me cringe. I’m so glad I can speak out about my Chickasaw heritage.”

Yegge joined a First American youth group called šiʔtús. Šiʔtús (meaning the front or the leaders), was led by Jerry Crowshoe and Cameron Wynne, and sponsored by the Spokane Tribe of Indians, one of 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington. It is located in the eastern part of the state near Spokane. Most other tribes, including the largest, Puyallup, are located in western Washington along the coastal regions and rivers where salmon fishing and gathering sustained First Americans for an estimated 11,000 years.

“I am very happy to be accepted by the Spokane tribe. If you’re a First American, the organization is open to all tribal affiliations. Thus far, I’m the only Chickasaw, but I hope that changes,” Yegge said with a laugh.

Yegge’s first memory of his Chickasaw heritage came in seventh grade. “I remember embracing it, but I really didn’t understand it or research just how important it would become to me,” he said. “I’ve researched the tribe and our family, and learned. I can say now I am a proud Chickasaw. It has been a really philosophical experience for me.”

Yegge is 17 and a senior in highschool. He was born in Enid, Oklahoma. His father, Kristopher, was assigned to Vance Air Force Base at his birth and was transferred to Washington shortly afterward. It is through his father he gets his Chickasaw heritage. His mother, Johanna, is not First American, but his brother, Elliot, shares Chickasaw blood. Elliot is an eighth-grade student.

“Knowing and learning about my heritage is special to me, and I will continue to be involved with other First Americans locally,” Yegge said. “The Spokane tribe is very welcoming and stresses inclusion,” he added.