poem index

Native American Heritage Month

This November, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, a time for us to honor the history, culture, and traditions of Native Americans past and present.

On September 28, 1915, President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation that resulted in the first Native American heritage celebration in the United States; he declared the second Saturday of each May as American Indian Day. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Similar proclamations, with different names, have been issued every year since 1994. In 2016, President Barack Obama attended the eighth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, where he proclaimed November 2016 as National Native American Heritage Month and announced November 25, 2016, as Native American Heritage Day.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, check out this selection of poems, essays, books, and more by and about Native American poets.

Featured Poems

Good Hair” by Sherman Alexie
Hey, Indian boy, why (why!) did you slice off your braids? …

Atlas” by Sherwin Bitsui
Tonight I draw a raven’s wing inside a circle …

“Morning on Shinnecock” by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks
The rising sun had crowned the hills …

Freeway 280” by Lorna Dee Cervantes
Las casitas near the gray cannery …

America, I Sing Back” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in …

Kangi in My Attic” by Lois Red Elk
All night during this last decay of autumn moon …

Peace Path” by Heid E. Erdrich
This path our people walked …

Relic” by Jennifer Foerster
An atlas …

Deer Dancer” by Joy Harjo
Nearly everyone had left that bar …

Star Quilt” by Roberta J. Hill
These are notes to lightning in my bedroom …

Song for the Turtles in the Gulf” by Linda Hogan
We had been together so very long …

Compass” by Joan Naviyuk Kane
I let him do what he will to me—

A Tribute to the Future of My Race” by Laura Cornelius Kellogg
Not a song of golden “Greek” …

The Reservation” by Adrian C. Louis
How do you …

Cream City” by Margaret Noodin
They gathered to trade …

For-The-Spirits-Who-Have-Rounded-The-Bend IIVAQSAAT” by dg nanouk okpik
The seal talked to me with sharp eyes in my dream …

Acrobat” by Elise Paschen
The night you were conceived …

Ode to Sequoyah” by Alexander Posey
The names of Waitie and Boudinot—

Whose Mouth Do I Speak With” by Suzanne Rancourt
I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum …

Mount Shasta” by John Rollin Ridge
Behold the dread Mt. Shasta, where it stands …

Invocation” by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
Rise bravest chief! of the mark of the noble deer …

Can You Feel the Native American in Me” by M. L. Smoker
We pull into dirt driveway in Lara’s blue Celica …

Burn” by Mark Turcotte
Back when I used to be Indian …

The Exile” by Michael Wasson
For now I can …

The Aura of the Blue Flower That is a Goddess” by Ray A. Young Bear
Immediately after the two brothers entered …

Carrying Our Words” by Ofelia Zepeda
We travel carrying our words …

Audio Poems

this sad little enclave of horses” by Julian Talamantez Brolaski
of all the lines of all the subway cars in all of new york city …

Leviathan” by Laura Da’
In Westport the small French cart …

From the Desire Field” by Natalie Diaz
I don’t call it sleep anymore …

Palo Borracho” by Chip Livingston
The jacaranda blooms beside the drunk stick tree …

On Strings of Blue” by Cedar Sigo
Was it tonight’s …

"Irony" by Layli Long Soldier
I wake to ...

Essays

A Poetry Portfolio: Featuring Five of Our Country’s Finest Native Poets by Natalie Diaz
“Learning and speaking one’s native language is an emotional and political act. Each time a poet brings a native language onto the white space of the page, into the white space of the academies and institutions of poetry, it is an emotional and political act.”
read more

Ancestors: A Mapping of Indigenous Poetry and Poets by Joy Harjo
“Those who took care of our Mvskoke culture taught me that our arts carry the spirit of a people. It is through art that we know ourselves.”
read the full text and watch video of the lecture

Emerging Poet: On dg nanouk okpik by Arthur Sze
“As a poet, dg nanouk okpik wants to incorporate—to embody—Inuit mythology and worldview into finely crafted poems in English. She thus draws on her Inupiat heritage, but she is firmly rooted in the complexities, tensions, and challenges of our contemporary world.”
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Emerging Poet: On Sherwin Bitsui by Arthur Sze
“His work struggles with the tension between Diné and English, between the desire to restore a balance with the natural world and the recognition of how ineluctable the forces of twentieth century technology are.”
read more

Lesson Plan

Incredible Bridges: “Remember” by Joy Harjo

Incredible Bridges






This lesson plan, designed for middle school and high school classrooms, incorporates a Native American song from the Western Shoshone tribe, Native American creation myths, and a video of Joy Harjo reading her poem “Remember.”

This lesson plan is part of the series “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.

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Featured Books

When My Brother Was an Aztec


When My Brother Was an Aztec
by Natalie Diaz

“In this poignant debut, Natalie Diaz writes as a sister who is struggling with her brother’s drug addiction, within a family dynamic steeped in the mythology and cultural history of reservation life.”
read more




How We Became Human

How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975–2002
by Joy Harjo

“This collection, from 2015 Wallace Stevens Award winner Joy Harjo, gathers poems from throughout Harjo’s twenty-eight-year career, beginning with poems from Harjo’s first two chapbooks, The Last Song (Puerto del Sol Press, 1975) and What Moon Drove Me to This (I. Reed Books, 1979), through her collection A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales (W. W. Norton, 2000), as well as new, previously unpublished poems.”
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Stranger in Town


Stranger in Town
by Cedar Sigo

“The second book by Cedar Sigo has a lyric energy that fervently pursues what Joanne Kyger recognizes as ‘urban mysticism.’”
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Whereas
WHEREAS
by Layli Long Soldier

"Throughout the book Long Soldier addresses the struggle of coming of age as a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe in America."
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Shaking the Pumpkin

Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas edited by Jerome Rothenberg
“One of the significant highlights of Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americans is a dizzying array of translation methods. One of the editor’s main concerns when working on this anthology was not to use the 'limiting' European definition of a poem, but rather to open up the definition to include the context surrounding the spoken word.”
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