‘Feather Chronicles’ continues to soar at CMN

Ryan Winn

“We are what we imagine,” Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday wrote. “Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.”

While Momaday’s message affirms the views of optimists who see life’s proverbial glass half-full, as well as those dreaming lofty dreams for themselves and their loved ones, I’ve found it resonates loudest in the output of artists. The assertion is perhaps most apparent in the works of emerging talent.

Since 2008, College of Menominee Nation has produced an annual journal dedicated to showcasing the art of the college community titled, “Feather Chronicles.” Spearheaded by faculty emeritus Dr. Dennis Vickers, the text features the work of people affiliated with CMN.

“It began as a writing campus club where students workshopped their stories,” Vickers said. The periodical evolved out of those gatherings, as “the principle objective for the journal was to provide a place for students to publish their work.” With Vickers’ editorial guidance it became more — a creative hub where art could be both shared and enjoyed.

Available in both print and electronic versions, the issues circulate widely and are often offered as gifts to visitors at either the college’s Keshena or Green Bay campus. Yet, Vickers noted what pleased him was contributors’ desire to “share the journal with their family and list the accomplishment on their resumes.” The success of the publication was evident from the get-go, and soon CMN employees and community artists were adding their voices to the fold.

Flipping through the pages, one finds lines examining the natural world, humanity and personal identity. There are verses on both love and loss and all of the cathartic emotions that accompany them, as well as some celebrating humor, friendship and wonder about what has been and what will come next.

The presentation is noteworthy in its own right, as the images on the covers as well as those shuffled within the pages showcase contributors’ photographic eye for moments worth savoring. Upon reviewing an issue for yourself, it’s easy to recognize why the announcement of each new entry is eagerly anticipated.

In 2012, CMN’s founding president, Dr. Verna Fowler, wrote the introduction to that year’s issue which spoke to a sentiment that faithful readers share: “In many ways each year, our students, faculty and staff, and friends of the College generously express their thoughts and insights on American Indian and other cultures. Their work in the visual and theatre arts, and through music, poetry and prose, makes our College a more lively, spiritual and satisfying place for all. ‘Feather Chronicles’ is one of our most enduring channels for sharing the creative writing and art of the College.”

This spring’s production of the 2021 issue marks a turning point in the journal, as Vickers is handing over the editor’s keyboard. Although he has only been officially retired from teaching since the fall, a cancer diagnosis and its subsequent care has sidelined Vickers’ vigor the past few years. Still, he continued to serve CMN and its students with strength and determination. Joining our department meeting last week, Vickers stated that ensuring the continuation of “Feather Chronicles” was “the last thing on my to-do list.”

Having begun my own teaching at CMN the same day as Vickers in the fall of 2005, I can attest that his engagement with our students has been extraordinary to witness. Vickers’ kindness, humility and tact has amazed me time and time again, and that includes hearing him share the ins-and-outs of the campus publication that will forever be a part of his legacy.

Using the disarming humor that endears him to so many, Vickers explained the truth about inclusive, affirming publications: “It doesn’t have to turn into ‘The New Yorker’ to be successful. It is successful as it is.”

“Art is affirmation,” is another line that Momaday wrote, but it’s the showcasing of that art that allows it to reverberate. “Feather Chronicles” reverberates.

Māēc wāēwāēnen, Dr. Vickers, for creating a space that allows so many students, staff, and community members to share the works they imagine.

Ryan Winn teaches communications, English and theater at the College of Menominee Nation. Visit www.menominee.edu for information about the school.