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Isabella Griffin, 18, of Mahnomen recently took second place in the first writing competition she ever entered. Photo special to The Forum

Writing competition teaches teen about self, culture

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Tracy Frank

Forum News Service

MAHNOMEN — Isabella Griffin says she’s always been told she’s a great writer. Now she has proof.

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The 18-year-old White Earth Tribal & Community College student recently took second place in the first writing competition she’s ever entered.

“I tend to be quite shy, but I’m glad that through my writing, my voice is being heard,” she said.

Griffin entered a contest through the American Indian Higher Education Consortium on a whim and with a teacher’s encouragement. She presented her story at the consortium’s conference last month in Billings, Mont.

“It was nothing like I had experienced,” she said of winning.

At first, Griffin says she thought the email she received a few weeks later with the subject line, “Congratulations! You have won!” was spam.

“I was scared to open it, but … it said I was in the top three for the Short Story Non-Fiction category, and I was ecstatic,” she said. “I could not stop smiling for the rest of the night.”

Griffin says coming up with an idea for her short story was difficult.

“This had to be one of the toughest stories for me to write because I knew that it had to be true, but it also had to have my voice,” she said.

Her instructor, Sheila Michaels, suggested she write about the drum and its usage in Native American culture.

“I have an amazing instructor who is able to bring out my capabilities when it comes to my writing,” Griffin said.

As part of her research, Griffin interviewed fellow students and one of the elders. She learned a lot about the tradition of the drum, but she also learned about herself.

“I learned so much, and I am continually learning about my culture every day,” she said. “I am Native American and African-American, but I never really grew up knowing what each culture does. I used to be so quiet when it came to asking questions about my heritage and why we do things so differently from others, but I’m not anymore.”

Griffin plans to enter more writing contests and hopes to take first place in next year’s AIHEC competition.

“That’s my goal,” she said.

Griffin, who is originally from the Twin Cities, is nearing the end of her first year at the White Earth college. She plans to transfer to a university after she graduates so she can pursue a psychology degree and work in a career helping children.

She is also a member of the college’s Student Senate so she can be a voice for her student body, she said.

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