"Writing Was My Outlet, My Church": Poetry and Wisdom from Sunny Red Bear, Native Author and Activist

Nov 9, 2018 | Sunny Red Bear

This November, Native Hope launched a movement of healing, solidarity, and hope focused on hearing and sharing Native stories. #StorytellingHeals is an effort to share more stories of hope, creativity, resilience, and courage openly with the world through videos, articles, and social media.

The following story and poetry was shared with Native Hope by Sunny Red Bear, an author and activist who fights to empower Native women. We are so grateful to Sunny for her work and her witness and to be able to share her words here with our Native Hope audience. 

Introducing Sunny Red Bear, Native Author and Activist

My name is Sunny Red Bear. I am Lakota Sioux from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. My Lakota name is Wasu Hla Mani Win. I grew up on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota on a ranch outside a small town called Isabel. For a long time, I never looked at my self as a writer, but that writing was something I did. Little did I know that writing would take me so many places and meet so many incredible people. Writing became a part of me, an evolution of myself through time and struggles.

"Writing Was My Outlet, My Church"

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I began writing when I was 12 years old, small little poems here and there about family and everyday life.

As time went on, I began to fill my notebooks with my struggles as a teen and the anger I felt from being adopted, as well as enduring sexual abuse. I have re-read my old poems during those times, and I could feel this rawness of emotion with a limited vocabulary to express the anguish I was feeling as a child.

For me, writing was my outlet, my church, it was my healing, and my safe place. I would close my room door, and the outside world would melt away into a nothingness that felt so peaceful, a moment of peace when my mind was at war.

I continued to write throughout high school, diving into my literature books in school and reading as many poems by the “Fireside poets” as I could. I took inspiration from Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rudyard Kipling, Kahlil Gibran and Emerson in my young age. Anything my high school books had to offer at the time, I read.sunny red bear 2

It’s now changed to Yrsa Daley-Ward and anyone that is willing to share their story with me. Ordinary people have the most amazing stories. I have always been inspired by anyone that could see life in multiple ways and describe their emotions with uncommon metaphors. Show me life is different for you and I will believe you. I loved words, the power of them and the way they could relieve you. 

I write now to inspire and share my stories. I believe that even though many of us want to see our life experiences as one of a kind, we have to understand that we are human and many of our experiences are very similar to the person next to us. If we share in our experiences, we can inspire those to keep going, that we are not alone in this life, in our struggles, in our feelings.

My Writing is My Activism

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My writing is my activism. It is my chance to invoke emotions to take action whether that's for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women or if that action is to make every day count. When you have the ability to make people feel something in your writing, you have the ability to create understanding for people who may have never given your ideas a chance.

Writing is a powerful tool to create: love, understanding, freedom, and inspiration.

I’m thankful for platforms like Native Hope that allow me to share my writings, my thoughts and my visions for the future. We are all storytellers, if we find our words along our journeys we should save them for the generations to come. We need your words, your stories, we need you. Lila Wopila.


Featured Poems

Soot & Wood

We come to the center of a place

From the midst of the earth 

From this bitter beautiful roots

Where our ancestors stood, souls crafted of soot & wood.

We sprouted & doubted the creation of each other, tossed & toiled with the facts that we are all in connection. 

We are all of the same reflection 

Mirroring existence, raising my hand to touch yours mistaking it for mine.


We came from places of suffering & unknown to healed and home grown. 

A sweetness that grew from the bitter roots we once knew. 

We come to an equal plane of humanness that we often complain 

but we all are connected like body to veins, compassion that helps us sustain. 

We are all in relation, one people, one nation, our common place is the heart and one day we will understand

that through these hard time we've come along way from where we had to start. 



A century from now my Grandbabies will be having babies. 

My eyes will be watching them from places I've never been

& spaces only spirits go. 

They will be walking paths that my footprints called home & 

they'll be speaking of things in common place that I was the first to speak. 

My heart will be resting within a cage placed above their instincts & my mind will be rationed out among them. 

Taking what they can from what I left like an unwritten will - 

I hope they are gracious to each other & I hope I left enough to go around.

Join the #Storytelling Heals Movement This November

This November, we want to hear from you. Every one of us has a unique story to share and a unique way of seeing the world. What trials have you faced? What successes have you celebrated? What matters most to you? What brings you healing? What is your Native hope?

We are on a mission to share Native stories because we believe that #StorytellingHeals. Will you join our #StorytellingHeals movement by sharing your story with us?