Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Heid E. Erdrich


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


The Invention of Time

Leave it to humans
lit as we are with brilliance
of the sort that flashes
in the dark cave of brain-

Take the Moon
in English with her OO
noon-sounding name.

Leave it to humans who name
all things seen and unseen-
all things guessed,
who name light and make it a place.

Take the Moon/Gokomis
in Anishinaabe with her OKO
grandmother-sounding name.

Leave it to women who name
all things seen and unseen-
all things understood,
who name light and make it time.

Heid E. Erdrich (Ojibwe) is author of eight books including Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media and editor of the anthology New Poets of Native Nations from Graywolf Press. Her collaborative award-winning poem videos have been featured at the Whitney, Tweed, and other museums, galleries, and cultural centers. She teaches in the Augsburg University MFA Program. More from this author →