A celebration of indigenous voices, culture, and stories.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor and celebrate the vibrant cultures of Indigenous peoples throughout the United States. To commemorate this month, dive into powerful poetry exploring the history, resilience, and beauty of Indigenous culture.
Exploring Native American Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month became nationally recognized in 1990 and is now celebrated every November. This month provides an opportunity for all to learn about and appreciate the diverse traditions, histories, languages, and stories of Indigenous peoples and ensure this history is passed down for generations to come. November is the time to shed light on the struggles and triumphs of Native American communities and recognize the incredible contributions these Indigenous Americans have made to the nation and the world.
Honoring Native American Culture Through Poetry
“The literature of the aboriginal people of North America defines America. It is not exotic. The concerns are particular, yet often universal.” – Joy Harjo
Native American and indigenous North American poetry is not a monolith. Currently today there are still more than 1,200 recognized tribes in the US and Canada, each with their languages, histories, stories, and culture. Each voice draws from different experiences, beliefs, and reflections, showcasing both the unique experiences of the poet and the struggles of humanity as a whole. No matter the topic, the cultural reference, or the inspiration, each poem speaks to a universal audience.
Poetry is a powerful and evocative storytelling medium. Storytelling has been and will always be an important part of Native American culture. It offers a window into the life, mythologies, and spiritual connections of Indigenous communities and their deep-rooted connection to the land and each other.
Most Popular Native American Poets
Within the realm of Native American poetry, several remarkable poets stand out. These poets are popular amongst readers and have made major contributions to the literary world with their work.
As the first Native American United States Poet Laureate and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo has become one of the most influential voices in contemporary Native American poetry. Her collection, How We Became Human, weaves together themes of identity, spirituality, and the intricate relationship between humans and the natural world.
Simon J. Ortiz
Simon J. Ortiz, a Pueblo poet, beautifully describes the struggles and experiences of Native Americans in the modern world. Ortiz’s poetry weaves a rich tapestry of Pueblo culture, urging readers to recognize and empathize with the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples. With each word, he creates a space for cultural exploration and understanding, which won him a Pushcart Prize in 1981 for his collection From Sand Creek.
N. Scott Momaday
N. Scott Momaday creates poetic narratives celebrating his Kiowa heritage and the profound connection between Native Americans and the land. Momaday has been crafting poetry for decades and his latest collection, Again the Far Morning, collects the best of his poetic works.His evocative prose transports readers into the heart of Kiowa culture, inviting them to explore the beauty and wisdom rooted in their traditions.
Luci Tapahonso, a Diné poet, infuses her work with Navajo culture, tradition, and identity. Her poems speak to the enduring spirit of the Navajo people, embracing the profound bond between individuals and their ancestral homeland. Her collection, A Radiant Curve, resonates with readers on a deeply emotional level and paint vivid imagery with every word.
Michael Wasson is Nimíipuu and grew up on the Nez Perce Reservation in Lenore Idaho. The landscape of his home, the elders of his community, and the stories and language of his culture truly inspired his writing. His first poetry collection, The American Ghost was published in 2017. Then in 2019, he received a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship to help him pursue his craft. His latest collection, Swallowed Light, was published in 2022.
Raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles California, Natalie Diaz is a member of the Mojave and Gila River Indian Tribe. While her first collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published in 2012, her popularity grew significantly in 2020. Her collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, was the finalist for the National Book Award and won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Her poems showcase her beautiful relationship with language and the relationships she holds dear.
Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, Laura Da’ is a member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. Her first collection, Tributaries, won an American Book Award in 2016. One of her most talked about poems, “Nationhood,” is known for its flat and journalistic language and declarative sentences. This poem shows that colonial lingo is unable to truly describe her nation and culture because it lacks the “Shawnee words.”
Poems on Native American Culture
America, I Sing Back – Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Nationhood – Laura Da’
Can You Feel the Native American in Me – M. L. Smoker
To See as Far as the Grandfather World – Ray Young Bear
Carrying Our Words – Ofelia Zepeda
Trickster – Sherwin Bitsui
Nimbawaadaan Akiing / I Dream a World – Margaret Noodin
The Snow Mare – N. Scott Momaday
All the Tired Horses in the Sun – Joy Harjo
This Morning – Luci Tapahonso
What an Indian Thought When He Saw the Comet – Tso-le-oh-woh
A Song of a Navajo Weaver – Bertrand N. O. Walker
This incredible collection of Native American poetry is only a fraction of the literary contributions indigenous poets have made to American culture. It invites readers to explore themes of identity, spirituality, connection to the land, and the challenges faced by Native American communities throughout history. Through these poetic masterpieces, readers gain a deeper understanding of Native American heritage.
Embrace the power and beauty of Native American heritage and add these poets to your poetry collection. Happy National Native American Heritage Month!
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