Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Tyler Dettloff


This country carries a heavy history of words weaponized in so many unspeakable ways. We must face these times of worry and fear with all of our strength and ancestral power. Storytelling and bearing witness through art is a communal tool for survival. These continue to be times where we need poetry the most. And so, we come together to share experience, songs, stanzas, and phrases to invoke resilience and grit to challenge obstacles and embrace the humanity of Mother Earth and all of her inhabitants.

In honor of Native American Heritage Month I would like to celebrate and uplift several Indigenous writers whose words inspire us to continue to share our voices and our truths. 

We are still here, I type these words while sitting on Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho lands. We are still here, fingers on keys. We are still here, voice in throat. We are still here, blood in memory, we remember. We are still here, we re-member ourselves into survivance. 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


Nipan Mishkwi [Lung Blood]

Back blade my heartstrings
my lungs weave an ombre
stew on the one thing
she left me
biidanaamo [my first breath]

like ice chunks expanding
fractured capillaries
rib bones to sawdust
spruce roots bleed
azhashki [mud thick water]

when wiigwas jiimaan [birch bark canoe] scrapes chi-zibi asin [big river rock] throw nibi n’digo aniimki [water like thunder]

paddle is blade is feather is backbone is flora is fauna…

No one can take my breath
I’m not even sure I can
so I hook toward the rapids
boil my own blood just to
godam n’de [taste my heart]

Breathing is all we ever do
we are surrounded by water
floating is falling
out of style
bizaanishin [so be still]


Photograph of Tyler Dettloff by Daraka McLeod-Dettloff.

Tyler Dettloff is an Anishinaabe Métis, Italian, and Irish writer, professor, musician, gardener, and water protector raised on the edge of the Delirium Wilderness. He currently lives in Gnoozhekaaning (Bay Mills, Michigan) and teaches College Composition at Lake Superior State University. His debut poetry chapbook Belly-Up Rosehip: A Tongue Blue with Mud Songs was published by Swimming with Elephants Publications in August 2019. Mostly, Tyler enjoys walking along rivers with his wife Daraka and daughter Meadow and through swamps with his dogs Banjo and Fiddle. More from this author →