Welcoming Native American Heritage Month
November 1, 2018
November has been designated as Native American Heritage Month, and as such it offers those of us who do not identify as Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American a special opportunity to place ourselves both culturally and spatially, and to recognize the valuable contributions that the original peoples of North America have made and continue to make to our larger national identities, cultures, and creative expression. The lessons of history challenge us to view Native Americans with a deeper understanding of the many economic and political forces, narrow colonial attitudes, deep rooted racist and cultural biases, and multiple instances of betrayal, marginalization, and abuse that have frequently led to great suffering among these original Americans. Many contemporary Indigenous writers labor hard to overcome yawning gaps in their recorded history, in their cultural traditions, and with identities too often badly defined by external powers who showed little care for the wisdom, experience, sensibilities, and dignity of the Native Americans.
Still, Indigenous Americans are not to be defined as powerless victims. Many of their rich cultural traditions and sensibilities live on vibrantly among these diverse peoples and cultures. At a time when America’s own natural environment faces existential threats, when politics are deeply divisive and frequently serve to exacerbate marginalization, and when moral exemplars are few, we have an acute need to learn from local wisdom that is so deeply rooted in this continent and its multitude of indigenous ethnicities. Much of this wisdom comes to us most directly through the work of creative writers who have their own roots in indigenous culture, and who have been shaped by folklore and resilient cultural traditions. There are many such writers whose craft is directly honed by their Indigenous American experience, including such well-known authors as the Muscogee (Creek) nation poet and playwright Joy Harjo, Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-American writer and National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie, feminist poet and novelist Paula Gunn Allen who identifies with the Laguna Pueblo of her childhood years, and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner N. Scott Momaday, who is a Kiowa Indian. Some Indigenous American authors combine astute historical understanding with superb creative writing skills, such as the Osage writer John Joseph Mathews. Novelist and American Book Award winner Janet Campbell Hale draws upon her own early life on a Coeur d’Alene Reservation in her work, and the many stories of her own ancestors. And there are so many more: David Treuer, Leslie Marmon Silko, nila northSun, Gerald Vizenor, Louise Erdrich, James Welch, and Linda Hogan to name but a few.
AWP encourages you to set aside time this month to open your mind and creative spirit to the invaluable resources that Indigenous American creative writers make available to us through their many outstanding works.
Chloe Schwenke, PhD
Interim Executive Director, AWP