Local events celebrate poetry during Native American Heritage Month

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In case you missed celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day last month, all of November is Native American Heritage Month, established by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. The single day in October is more about reclaiming the Americas from Columbus Day as a way of celebrating the first nations who inhabited the Americas before Columbus’ landing.

Among Natives, Columbus Day was seen as an insult to Indigenous inhabitants and was often the brunt of Indigenous humor. You’ve probably seen a variant of the “tourist go home” memes and T-shirts.


Locally, heritage month will be celebrated by several Indigenous poets doing readings and conducting a workshop on Native American Poetry at two locations: Nokomis Center in Meridian Township and University United Methodist Church. In Michigan, Native American Poetry can be traced to Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, who is considered the first Native literary writer. Jane Johnston was the spouse of Henry Schoolcraft, the federal Indian Agent in Sault Ste. Marie. Author Robert Dale Parker wrote “The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky” about her life.
Recently, Native poetry was raised to a new level when Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Nation, served three terms as the nation’s poet laureate. Continuing in that tradition, Native poets Gordon Henry Jr., Mark Turcotte and Rosalie Sanara Petrouske will read poetry and conduct a writing workshop through a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.

Gordon Henry
Gordon Henry
Rosalie Sanara Petrouske
Rosalie Sanara Petrouske
Mark Turcotte
Mark Turcotte

The project will present the work of both emerging and experienced Native American poets.  On Nov. 19, at 4 p.m. Henry, an MSU English professor, will lead a poetry workshop, “Living Nations, Living Words,” at the Nokomis Learning Center in Okemos. The workshop is free and open to the public but limited to 30 participants.

On Nov. 20, at 4 p.m., a special program, “We Are the Wind: Native American Poetry,” will be facilitated at the University United Methodist Church Sanctuary in East Lansing by Henry and feature Mark Turcotte, a DePaul University professor and formerly from Lansing; Rosalie Sanara Petrouske and MSU graduate Zoe Johnson, a flash fiction writer and poet. Lansing Poetry Club is sponsoring the free event.

The month is also a good time to visit the Nokomis Cultural Heritage Center, which is dedicated to the history, arts, culture and language of the Anishinaabe People. In addition to language skills, the center offers programs ranging from sweetgrass braiding to ribbon skirt making.

Nokomis is also evolving into a research center for those wanting to pursue their Indian heritage thanks to a recent gift of his papers, database and books from James LaLone. He has spent decades recreating the genealogy of more than 30,000 American Indian descendants in Michigan.
For those who want to pursue the history and culture of Indigenous Nations through books, several authors jump out, N. Scott Momaday (“House Made of Dawn”); Louise Erdrich (“Love Medicine”); her sister Heid Erdrich (“Little Big Bully”); Joy Harjo, (“An American Sunrise,”) Tommy Orange, “There There,”; Sherman Alexie (“The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian,”); Gerald Vizenor (“Bearheart”); along with nonfiction writers Vine Deloria Jr., his son Phillip Deloria; and David Treuer (“The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee”). First-time author Angeline Boulley recently wrote one of the most heralded young adult novels, “Firekeepers Daughter,” about the reservation life of a young woman.
Vine Deloria’s book with the provocative title “Custer Died for Your Sins” served as an Indian manifesto when it was written in 1969 during the beginnings of the American Indian
movement.

His son’s book “Playing Indian” is one of the best looks at the objectification of American Indians through sports teams, school mascots and advertising.
Momaday’s “House Made of Dawn” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Other American Indian writers who have contributed include James Welch (“Winter in the Blood”), Russell Means (“Where White Men Fear to Tread”) and Susan Power (“Grass Dancer”).
In addition, a new book, “Indigenous Continent,” by University of Oxford Historian Pekka Hamalainen, rewrites the common misperception about American Indian defiance of Colonialism.
Henry, a member of the White Earth Anishinaabe Nation of Minnesota, wrote the highly regarded “Light People” (1994) and a new 2022 poetry collection, “Spirit Matters: White Clay, Red Exits, Distant Others.”
Turcotte, a Turtle Mountain Ojibway, is the author of four poetry collections, including “The Feathered Heart,” and was a visiting writer-in-residence at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Rosalie Sanara Petrouske, who identifies as Ojibwe, is the author of “What We Keep” and “A Postcard from my Mother.” She is working on a collection of poetry inspired by the Indian School Movement.

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