Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: dg nanouk okpik


As a poet, I struggle with language—the English that America force-fed down my ancestors’ throats during assimilation and the Boarding School Era. My mouth struggles to reclaim the language of my ancestors as I try to learn words in my mother tongues.

I write these words while sitting on Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho lands. I type, We are still here, fingers on keys, and think about what it means to live as an Indigenous person in the United States, on Turtle Island today. I see no borders; I wish everyone could see through these eyes.

I think about my First Nations relatives to the north and our relatives from south of these manmade borders in what is known as México. I think about the caravan of relatives traveling north, the voter suppression of Indigenous people in North Dakota and of our Black relatives in Georgia, and the heavy history of a country that has weaponized words in so many unspeakable ways.

These times where my heart struggles to speak are when I need poetry the most.

November is Native American Heritage Month and in celebration I would like to fill the white space of the page with the words of Indigenous poets whose work nourishes my soul. The presence of these poets’ pulses through the literary landscape to help us survive our loneliness and silences, to bless us with light, and to bear witness to our presence in all forms.

– Tanaya Winder


Feathered Snow

And the spirits put his arms around me instead.
We bonded in a way. Mind Meld. The old way.

Times when ladies were ladies & men were men.
Let it be swift. Let it be silent. Hear it, listen. Be.

A wasp lands on a rose, a wild pink rose. Smell it.
Yellow striped-hard black antennae landing purely.

Delicately, distractingly, where luminous shines on.
A swallowtail flies by. Gets his drink — a volt of methane.

It strikes upward 30 feet when he throws his match
to the wind.

In grey old slush it happens:
_____________________________Lift her up, so simple.

Arabesque of rock & stone can’t hold back the hunger.
I chew the world word-by-word, I spit it out just as I split.

dg nanouk okpik is Inupiaq, Inuit, and was raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She received a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Stonecoast College. The recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship, okpik is the author of Corpse Whale (University of Arizona Press, 2012). More from this author →