About Abena

About Abena Songbird in her own words:
I am an Abenkai (Missisquoi) First Nations/French-Canadian/Irish poet, vocalist and songwriter. I grew up on the east coast (Vermont) which is N’dakinna (our land) in the Abenaki language. The eastern woodlands have shaped me in childhood memory (I spent 24 years/winters, the seasons) there growing up. It is an alive place. The land back home renews and teaches me when I walk it. My paternal grandmother knew something about the plant medicines – the plants that were edible and would heal. This old knowing would trickle out over the years from her, from my father and my mother’s memories. I have come to cherish it and I try to give it homage: that landscape, those memories, my roots and childhood in my songs and poetry: We have Names,BitterrootThe RootsBarkSap of Heart - it is something that is very sweet, very close to me, painful and beautiful, very Indian: the mountains, the animals, plants and places in the woods there -the lives and stories of Abenaki people – it defines the core of who I am, where I will return.

It is never very far away – even if I travel quite far from my roots yet it remains more unspoiled and time has somewhat dimmed my memory of the pains (my father’s alcoholism and death – the dissolution of family (Scattered Maple Leaves) and the very real day-to-day issues and problems that face Abenaki people: disruption of burial sites, fights for federal recognition, raping of the woods, the land by condominiums and corporations, alcoholism, poverty, teen suicide and despair. Some of those reasons were why I left at age 19. I needed to get away, or thought I could run from these very things that leaked into my family and left their stain.

I “ran” briefly to Texas (Austin) and New Mexico (Albuquerque) where I was much influenced by the work of Simon Ortiz and then to the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland) where I remained for over 15 years. These places and communities (African American, Asian and Bay Area Indian community) deeply influenced me. I worked for some years for the renowned poet Janice Mirikitani, and her husband -social justice & liberation minister – Rev. Cecil Williams), who taught me a great deal (to respect the diversity of many cultures and our own diversity as Native peoples). I currenty live in Rapid City, South Dakota – in the Lakota’s Paha Sapa/Center of the Universe with some of my animal relations: Chihuahuas – Ernesto Wakalapi Cikala (Little Coffee), Santana and Meteor, the cat.

With each move the land, the cultures and the Native peoples I have been honored to live and work among have influenced me, helped me grow and brought me, spiritually full-circle.

I feel that places have a spirit – they live on, constantly changing – coexisting with past, present and future (not stagnant). I try to convey this spirit with my words – to paint a place of memories from childhood, and more recent experiences – a place that has truly changed drastically from the First People’s (my ancestors) experience but holds strains, echoes if you will in the wind, water, on the earth and in my dreams – of old growth forest, of ceremony, and yes, genetic memory of blood spilled, of rape and pillage – holds all the songs, screams, gun shots, arrow quivers, horse whinnies etc.. of the past but also laughter, love, sacred smoke and prayers.

Abena was previously employed as an Events Coordinator for NACC – The Native American Cultural Center of San Francisco, and Coordinator for the Native Youth Career & Education Conference 2000 for the Oakland Office of Indian Education. She has worked for First People’s Fund of Rapid City, Co-coordinated the Native Voice Film Festival 2004 in Rapid City and was an Arts & Entertainment and later Senior Correspondant for the Lakota Journal (Dakota Lakota) Newspaper. She most recently wrote for Native Legacy Magazine (Rapid City, SD) and has done musical and poetry collaborations and hopes to someday complete more poetry and fiction.

Readings/Performances have included:

October 2005 19th Annual He Sapa Wacipi – Featured Poet,Rapid City, SD April 2005 Songwriter’s Showcase: Cowboys & Indians – Prince & Pauper Bookstore, Rapid City, SD (which she also hosted), Rockerville Community

Hall, SD, White Buffalo AfterSchool Project Reading, Rapid City, SD Native
American Health Center Electric Powwow 2004 – Brava Theater, One World Cafe,
The Nu Upper Room, Intersection for the Arts, James Moore Auditorium,
Oakland Public Library, Clean Well-Lit Place for Books, Mad Magda’s Cafe,
Rassela’s, Glide Church, The Socialist Bookstore, World Ground Cafe, La
Penya, The Women’s Building, Barnes & Nobles, California Lawyers Assoc.

July 2000, WaterShed Environmental Festival 2000-2001, Cafe Cokomo Autumnal
Equinox NACC Event 2000


Abena’s Bio
Abena Songbird has traveled all of her life. This not only speaks of the nomadic nature of the Native culture, but also of the forced relocation of many Indian Tribes. And it was through this travel that Abena found a greater identity. At nineteen she left home to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she heard an Acoma Pueblo Poet named Simon Ortiz. “He was a tremendous inspiration. He was speaking about the land, and I found a whole new self in me. It was never this linear, but a light went on in my head: Indians could be writers, poets, like maybe I could be a poet myself. It took a few years for this reality to surface for me.”

Sandra Abena Songbird (Naylor) is an Abenaki Indian/French/Irish poet and singer , a member of the Missisquoi Abenaki of Swanton, Vermont. She was born and lived over 24 winters in Vermont, 1 year in Austin, Texas, 4 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has spent over 15 years the Bay Area and most recently resides in Rapid City, South Dakota (since 2002).

Among her publication credits include:
Native publications: Unsomo /RedClay, Native Writer’s Showcase: Moccasin Telegraph, WordCraft Circle/Native Writer’s Publication – vol. 3 #5 & 6, 1995. Her work also appears in the following anthologies: Watch Out! We’re Talking ( Glide Word Press 1994) Image and Imagination: Encounters with the Photography of Dorothea Lange (Freedom Voices Press 1997), Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review, vol. 4 #2 (San Francisco State University, Spring 1998), Pacific Vision, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, vol. 11 #1, (Seattle, Spring 1998) Spirit in the Words: Moving People Through Poetry (Daimler Chrysler – vol. I & II -1999/2000) di-verse-city 2000, Austin International Poetry Festival Anthology (April 2000), My Home as I Remember - anthology of First Nations, Metis, Inuit women (Natural Heritage/Natural History, Toronto 2000)

Abena was the 1996 recipient of the San Francisco Mary TallMountain Native Award for Poetry and Community Service.

In March of 1998, Songbird released her debut album: “They’re Calling Us Home” a collection of spoken word and original contemporary music; a blend of Indigenous influences and African American jazz with musical partner, composer Muhammad Al-Amin. They call themselves; “The Songbird and The Moor”. In 2000, Abena published her first poetry publication “Bitterroot” (Freedom Voices Press – Berkeley) and continues to read and perform her “poemsongs” dedicated to Mother Earth, Indigenous Peoples, Red Road Recovery and all earthkeepers. She was employed as an events coordinator for NACC - The Native American Cultural Center of San Francisco, and organized & convened the Native Youth Career & Education Conference 2000 for the Oakland Office of Indian Education, she has worked for First People’s Fund of Rapid City and was coordinator for the Native Voice Film Festival 2004. She is currently at work on another poetry collection.

Readings/Performances have included: April 2005 Songwriter’s Showcase: Cowboys & Indians – Prince & Pauper Bookstore, Rapid City, SD (which she also hosted), Rockerville Community Hall, SD, White Buffalo AfterSchool Project Reading, Rapid City, SD Native American Health Center Electric Powwow 2004 – Brava Theater, One World Cafe, The Nu Upper Room, Intersection for the Arts, James Moore Auditorium, Oakland Public Library, Clean Well-Lit Place for Books, Mad Magda’s Cafe, Rassela’s, Glide Church, The Socialist Bookstore, World Ground Cafe, La Penya, The Women’s Building, Barnes & Nobles, California Lawyers Assoc. – July 2000, WaterShed Environmental Festival 2000-2001, Cafe Cokomo Autumnal Equinox NACC Event 2000

At Large: Seattle: Unity ’99 -NAJA Jam
Los Angeles: Georgia’s Restaurant
New York: The Grill/Times Square Austin: The Austin International Poetry Festival

Awards/Honors
2004- ImagineNative Film Festiva, Toronto, CANADA – ROUNDDANCE CD-ROM
Premier featured
installation at Toronto’s Native Film Festival

Selected Readings
2005 19th Annual He Sapa Wacipi, Rapid City, SD – Featured poet