The Auntie Way “Super Auntie” Writing Contest

Congratulations to Roger Jacob for winning 1st place in the adult category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Roger’s interview responses and winning entry. Thanks again to everyone who entered the contest, the awesome panel of judges, and to all of you who’ve read the winning entries from our fabulous youth and adult authors! The Auntie Way is all about honoring the kindness, fierceness, and creativity in our communities and ourselves–all of our award-winning stories demonstrate this in really powerful ways. Thanks for being part of The Auntie Way community!

Name: Roger Jacob

Hometown: Wapato

What is your advice for other writers?

  1. Come up with an idea or theme, and start typing whatever pops into your head onto your computer. Just start cranking out sentences and paragraphs.
  2. When you feel like you’ve got a decent amount written, go back and begin rearranging and editing.
  3. Then let whatever you wrote sit for a day to cool off. After one day, re-read it and make your final edits.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? Digging, picking, shooting, and catching ndn foods.

What is something you enjoyed about school when you were a youth? Girls and sports.

Anything else you’d like to share? In writing my Super Auntie essay I followed my own writing advice. After writing for what seemed like just a little bit, I did a “word count” and surprisingly had about twice as many words as the 500 word limit. I couldn’t believe it. In my initial writing I merely scratched the surface in listing some of the ways my Auntie Wakámlat cared for, inspired, and mentored myself and so many others. The fact I had to cut and leave out so much is a testament to the sheer super-ness of my Auntie Sue. This writing contest proved what I and all her other nieces and nephews have long known. Our Auntie Sue was truly a 1st place champion super Auntie of not only the Yakama Reservation, but the whole wide world. Kw’ałanúushamatash.

Title of story: Átway Wakámlat

My Super Auntie is Átway Wakámlat, a.k.a. Auntie, a.k.a. Sue Rigdon. Auntie Sue was one of only two Indians I recall being on staff at the Wapato public schools I attended K-12 on the Yakama Reservation. My Auntie Wakámlat was a Jr. High school counselor and Mrs. Miller was a playground aid.

Auntie had a husband (Uncle Mel), three sons and a daughter close to me in age who are my cousins, like brothers and sister Indian-way. The first time I remember Wakámlat auntying-up on me was when I was in the 4th grade. Her oldest son and I were in the same grade and got into a fight on the playground. I don’t remember over what. Probably something important like who was better, the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins. The person who hit the hardest in this fight was the principal, as he hacked us both with a board. The next time I saw Auntie she asked me why I was fighting. I told her I didn’t know. She told me when the principal called her about us fighting it made her sad. That simple statement had a powerful effect, as it made me feel both terrible and like I never wanted her to hear about me fighting again.

Wakámlat wasn’t just my Auntie, she was Auntie to hundreds of Indian kids who went to Wapato public schools. She not only told us to get good grades, play sports, speak our language, sing our songs, and practice our dances, she facilitated it. Auntie started the Wapato Jr. High Indian Club and designed and purchased blue satin Wapato Indian Club jackets as an incentive. All the Indian kids and even some White and Mexican kids all wanted one of these jackets. You couldn’t buy one. You had to earn it. Auntie set up a system awarding points for grades, participation in cultural performances, sports, and extracurricular activities. If you earned enough points, you earned the jacket.

After I graduated high school, my dad was being nch’i tútanikni ts’ɨ́x̱aas (repugnant) and I got the boot. When I was a homeless 18 year old, it was Auntie Sue and Uncle Mel who welcomed me into their home. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Navy and they continued to mentor and encourage me to be good and to do good. They both have meant and done so much for me that when my first child was born, I humbly asked them to be the godparents.

A few years ago Auntie passed. Her funeral was held in a church on the Reservation. I couldn’t get into the church as it was already full of Auntie’s nieces and nephews. I paid my respects outside the church with their godson and several rows deep of more of my Auntie’s nieces and nephews. As I stood outside the church I prayed in Indian and asked my Auntie, why’d you have to die? It makes me sad.

Credit: Quote from Yakama Rising by Michelle M. Jacob

Átway Wakámlat (by Roger Jacob)

Congratulations to Leanne Colette Allen for winning 2nd place in the adult category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Leanne’s winning entry. 

Title of story: Aunt’s Love

When I was ten years old, my mother decided to choose her substance addiction over her family. That had left a big hole in my heart and constantly wished for a mother figure in my life.

I am fortunate to have many mother figures throughout my life. My grandmother, Lillian Spino taught me how to crochet yarn belts. She wanted me to live up to my Indian name of Wapa Lech which means Good Weaver in the Umatilla language. She began teaching me how to weave flat and round bags which was a challenge because I am left handed and she was right handed. She did not give up on teaching me. Sadly, I was not able to learn cornhusk weaving. She was a well-known basket hat weaver. My aunt, Celeste Reeves used to dance jingle. She taught me how to make my own jingle dress. I was not very good with the sewing machine but she took the time to teach me. Once I was done with the dress she took me to the long house to bring me out onto the floor as a new jingle dress dancer. Since then I have made a number of regalia for my friends and family. I charged little to nothing for my work because I felt that it was more important to encourage the young people to dance. That is the value that my aunt has passed down to me.

My grandmother, Sylvia Allen has been my main mother figure once my mom left. She taught me how to cook many of our family’s favorite meals. During one of family dinners, my uncles were telling her how much they missed her potato salad and she had to inform him that I made it. She also taught me how to make frybread. I used to get so discouraged when the bread would not come out right. She constantly worked with me. Now with her permission, I use her recipe to set up an Indian taco stand at events and fairs. Through her teachings I have learned that with patience and determination that I can persevere. My grandmother likes to say she is just a housewife but she taught her children many traditional family values and instilled good work ethic. Those lessons were then passed down to grandsons and granddaughters so we can walk through the world with confidence.

Photo credit: “Jingle dancing” by K. Kendall is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Aunt’s Love (by Leanne Colette Allen)

Congratulations to Jennifer Ruef for winning 3rd place in the adult category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Jennifer’s interview responses and winning entry. 

Name: Jennifer Ruef

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

What is your advice for other writers? Write from your heart. Say what you mean. Worry less, love more.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? Springboard and platform diving, swimming, dancing, reading

What is something you enjoyed about school when you were a youth? Being good at it.

Anything else you’d like to share? Our students are usually our best teachers.

Story title: Dr. Rachel Lotan will hold you accountable as she holds your hand and heart

I have a lot of academic aunties and honorary aunties.

Mrs. Kapter, the teacher who called me her poet laureate and first told me I was good at math.

Dr. Joshua Chover, an uncle who taught me probability theory and the relationship between humanizing both students and mathematics.

Dr. Amy Ellis, who told me grad school was looking for someone just like me, and I should apply.

Dr. Michelle Jacob, who asked me to “hop on” a paper, providing mentorship and publications.

Dr. Melynda Casement, an academic sister, writing partner, friend, and co-conspirator.

But this paper is about Dr. Rachel Lotan.

I often tell people that Dr. Rachel Lotan is the Jewish grandmother I didn’t know I needed. She was the director of the Stanford Teacher Education program I worked for during my doctoral program. She was a member of my dissertation committee. From Rachel, I learned the paradox of data that breaks the heart of teacher educators while piquing the interest of researchers: our failures to reach and educate new teachers pave improvements to teacher education programs.

From Rachel, I learned to forge meaningful connections between research and practice in teaching. Rachel’s foundational work in Complex Instruction harnessed important social psychology research in service of teaching for equity. Her work shares and shows how to effectively teach in de-tracked classrooms, and how to find and shine a spotlight on the brilliance of students whose academic offerings might be overlooked by peers. In these ways, I found a clear path between what I envisioned in teaching for equity and social justice and the actualization of that vision. Of course, I am forever and always on the journey, forever and always approaching that destination.

From Rachel, I learned that high standards are a form of love when presented as expectations and coupled with support. From Rachel, I learned to reach out and ask for help. From Rachel, I could expect a warm hug and a firm shove to get moving. I can see myself reflected in her eyes. I can hear her indignantly weaponizing my own name: “Jenny!” she would say, without fail, when my self-confidence wavered in any way. Stubbornly, Rachel would not break my gaze until I reflected back to her that I was competent, capable, obligated, and on fire.

Once, when I was struggling with some academic challenge, I reached out to Rachel and she asked me if I remembered what she said to me during my dissertation defense. I honestly did not—I remember very little of my defense. The past decade has brought many struggles. I know I am not alone in this. This past summer I reached out again, and asked a favor. I mailed Rachel a small piece of paper and asked her to write, sign, and return to me that praise: “Jenny, your writing is exquisite.” I keep that framed statement on my desk as a reminder that I “have important things to say.”

Photo credit: “LEGO Hearts” by Bill Ward’s Brickpile is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dr. Rachel Lotan will hold you accountable as she holds your hand and heart (by Jennifer Ruef)

Congratulations to Marisa Tillequots for winning 1st place in the youth category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Marisa’s interview responses and winning entry. 

Name: Marisa Tillequots

Age: 17

Grade in school: 11th

School you attend: Wapato High School

What is your advice for other writers? My advice to writers is to always be original. Add a touch of your personality to the story. If you don’t put your own weirdness into the story then, you are no different than the hundreds of writers trying to make it out there.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? My favorite hobbies are playing sports like basketball, volleyball, and golf. But due to this pandemic I have been playing a lot of chess and some piano.

What is something you enjoy about school? Something I enjoyed about school before this pandemic started was being able to spend quality time with my friends. Just being able to be in the presence of some of my friends always brought up my mood. I’ll admit, being with some of them for an extended period of time can be overwhelming but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Anything else you’d like to share? Please wear your masks! Anyone can have Covid-19, so please be cautious, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Title of story: My Super Auntie

One of my super aunties that I can think of at the moment is my Aunt Dailene. The reason she is my super auntie is because well since my mom was never around, she practically took on the role being my brother’s and I mother figure. As a single mother she did everything for her three sons including my brother and I, for that I am really grateful. When we asked to go over to her house she never turned us down, saying it was our home as much as it was hers. She treated us like her own kids, the crazy thing is she never really got upset with me and my brother, I think it’s because she has a “soft spot” for us. Being in her house a lot while growing up made me see her sons as my younger brothers, her own boys treated me as if I was their sister, which is good on some occasions. For quite some time my brother and I didn’t live with neither my father nor mother, me and my brother were young bouncing house to house, not really being able to call anywhere home until we landed in Oregon with my grandparents. While living with them we still kept in contact with my Aunt Dailene, she would be asking us how we were doing and if we could come over sometime because she was missing us.

In 2013 my brother and I came back to Washington to live with our father, being back felt good in some ways. For one I could see my Aunt Dailene anytime I want if she’s not super busy with work. If anything I really look up to my auntie, her sons father passed some time ago leaving her to raise three boys alone with some help from my grandma. My Aunt Dailene’s sons are from the ages of 12-16, about a year ago she adopted a little girl who was a couple months old, she was sort of like a newborn. My auntie heard from some people that a little baby was in need of a home, Dailene being herself took the little girl in. The little girl is now a year old living her best life with my aunt and her three boys. My aunt’s boys were welcoming and open minded when she decided to adopt the little girl. Dailene’s boys were raised to be respectful and considerate, however all three boys are mischievous in their own ways. My aunt taught her oldest how to cook and clean, so when she’s at work she can rely on him to take care of the younger ones. When I need someone to vent my problems to, she’s always there, whether I need advice or just need someone to listen, I know I can count on her. My auntie Dailene is the one I’ll always call for anything because I know she’ll care, spoil, and love me unconditionally.

Photo credit: “A few of the ways I love you.” by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My Super Auntie (by Marisa Tillequots)

Congratulations to Hazen Jacob for winning 2nd place in the youth category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Hazen’s interview responses and winning entry.

Name: Hazen Jacob

Age: 14

Grade in school: 9th

School you attend: Wapato High School

What is your advice for other writers? If your struggling try to make your topic something that is fun for you. If you can pick your topic do something that interests you.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? I play and watch basketball, football, and video games. 

What is something you enjoy about school? I enjoy seeing and talking to people. My favorite class is math. I enjoy school sports too. 

Title of story: Dogs are cool

One super auntie moment I remember was back in 2013. At that time I was 7 years old. My shísha watched us after school one day when I was in 1st grade. At this time I learned something that helps me bond with other families and animals.

As a young kid I was always scared of dogs. I live out in the country and the only time I saw dogs were when they barked or ran at us. This sent bad vibes to me and made me scared of dogs. The dog we have was always aggressive for attention. Not like trying to hurt you aggressive but like running at and around you trying to get you to pet her aggressive. But that changed when I went over to my shísha’s house.

When I got there she welcomed me and my brother to some dried fruit and snacks. She had a very well trained dog at her house named anahuy, (bear) that I was nervous around. At first me and my brother played some jenga. Everytime we went to our shísha’s house we would play jenga. We didn’t have a jenga game at our house until later on so we always wanted to play. We would also play bingo because it was always fun to.

After we did our board games that’s when we went outside to their backyard. This is where I learned how to play and not be scared of a dog. When we went out anahuy ran straight at us, (making me nervous) but then stopped close to us. My shísha gave me a ball stuck on this rod that we could do a football throwing motion and throw the ball. Once we threw the ball anahuy sprinted straight after the ball and would jump up and catch it. We would do this for about 30 minutes and have fun.

What surprised me most was how well anahuy listens. My shísha would tell anahuy to go home and it would just walk straight to its pen in the house. You could tell it to sit and it would. This made me go to my dog and try these things but my dog didn’t really care.

This may not seem like much if you already were attached or liked dogs but this made me be able to pet and sit by dogs without being scared or nervous. Now we still have the same dog but she is blind and starting to get pretty shaky. But I got to have some cool moments with her and would still be scared if I didn’t have shísha to loosen me up around dogs.

Photo credit: “Wolf Mix” by Rennett Stowe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dogs Are Cool (by Hazen Jacob)

Congratulations to Savannah Onessimo for winning 3rd place in the youth category of the #SuperAuntie writing contest! Please enjoy reading Savannah’s interview responses and winning entry.

Photo courtesy of Savannah Onessimo

Name: Savannah Onessimo

Age: 16

Grade in school: 10

School you attend: Wapato High School

What is your advice for other writers? When writing, make sure to write down everything you want to say. Although the first draft may be rough, it’s always worth it at the end. Be confident in your writing. 

What are some of your favorite hobbies? Some of my hobbies include baking, playing the flute, and painting. 

What is something you enjoy about school? The opportunities. 

Title of story: My Auntie Kayla

In a world with many aunties, only a few can be considered super. For me, my super auntie is my auntie Mckayla or Kayla for short. I consider her my super auntie because of a variety of reasons, one being the fact that she’s there for anything, and another being that she is one of the most caring people in my life that I know.

When my mom and I moved to Montana from Maryland, we lived with Auntie Kayla. Growing up there, she helped raise me as if I were one of her own and helped me become the person I am today. When I told her that I wanted to pursue a career in forensic sciences or linguistics, she told me how proud she was of me and she knows I can do it. She pushes me to join opportunities that will contribute to my future. I look up to her because after all the things that have happened in her life so far, she was able to go through the obstacles and become who she is today. Now my mom and I live in Washington, and she still lives 2 states away, but she never hesitates to check up on us and see how we’re doing. She inspires me to be my best self.

Another reason that Kayla is considered to be my super auntie, is that she is so fun to be around. Whenever we visit, we usually go to hang out by the river and mess around, or stay home and play games or watch TV. Whenever there is tension, she’s the one to relax and make everything go back to normal just by being her. I’ve never seen her be mad, she’s usually calm and happy and nobody has said a bad thing about her that I know of, she’s awesome, or in this case, super. Although I don’t see her often, I always am excited for the next time we visit because it’s always fun to be around her. She also is amazing at making fry bread, she’s very traditional and is well-known for how good she beads. For every person who has graduated so far in our family, she beads the graduation cap, and I’m planning on asking if she can bead my own in a few years too.

When my mom got sick and my sisters and I had to stay with our grandma, Auntie Kayla reached out every day to make sure that we were okay, because we were not used to not being around our mom at the time. She always made sure that we knew that everything would be okay and reassured us that it just needed some time. I will always admire the fact that throughout everything, she’s always handled things with dignity, respect, and perseverance. This makes her one of the many super aunties in the world, and the reasons listed above are what makes her my super auntie.

My Auntie Kayla (by Savannah Onessimo)

Update posted on December 2, 2020: Thank you to everyone who entered The Auntie Way “Super Auntie” Writing Contest! We had so many amazing entries. Results are in! Winners will be contacted this week regarding their prize and publishing their story–stay tuned to read the winning stories and congratulations to all our award-winning authors!

1st Place Adult Category: Roger Jacob

2nd Place Adult Category: Leanne Colette Allen

3rd Place Adult Category: Jennifer Ruef

1st Place Youth Category: Marisa Tillequots

2nd Place Youth Category: Hazen Jacob

3rd Place Youth Category: Savannah Onessimo

Big thanks to the panel of judges who reviewed all the entries: Ethel Nicdao, LaShaune Johnson, Lorraine Cordeiro, Mrs. Goodwin Brown, Delany Cheng, Lola Grant-Giraud, Maddie Robertson, Violet Lewis-Horlitz, and Teagen Demers.

For both the adult and youth categories, prizes are:

  • 1st place: $50 Amazon gift certificate, winning story published on The Auntie Way blog, and be featured in an interview on the Anahuy Mentoring website.
  • 2nd place: $25 Amazon gift certificate, winning story published on The Auntie Way blog, and be featured in an interview on the Anahuy Mentoring website.
  • 3rd place: $10 Amazon gift certificate, winning story published on The Auntie Way blog, and be featured in an interview on the Anahuy Mentoring website.

The contest prompt: In 500 words or less, write about how one of your Aunties is super.

There is no entry fee.

The format and style of your story is up to you, just stay under the word limit allowed.

By completing the entry form you agree to all contest rules:

1. For the adult category you are 18 years of age or older.

2. For the youth category (under 18 years of age) you have a legal parent or guardian electronically sign permission for you to enter the contest.

3. You agree that by providing your email address you are granting permission to receive email list information from Anahuy Mentoring, LLC. You can unsubscribe from the email list at anytime using the link at the bottom of the email message.

4. Your entry is 500 words or less and written in English; if other languages are used you must provide a translation and the translation counts toward your 500 word limit.

5. One entry is allowed per person. You may only submit one form. Entering more than once will disqualify you.

6. You agree that upon submitting your contest entry the copyright is immediately transferred to Anahuy Mentoring, LLC.

7. You agree that any decisions made by contest judges are final and not disputable.

8. You agree that Aunties are awesome!