Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Autumn White Eyes


As an Indigenous writer and artist, I believe in honoring my heartwork through reciprocity. For me, one means of giving and receiving has been sharing the work of other Indigenous artists and uplifting them however I can. I’m grateful to The Rumpus for providing us a space during Native American Heritage Month and for letting me curate this space each November. This year, I wanted to take my role a step forward by offering a fellow poet a chance to co-curate. I first met Cuauhtémoc when they were a freshman at Stanford; I was their RA. Cuauhtémoc was an artist from the beginning; the first time I saw them dance it was poetry, it was image and metaphor in motion, and I am grateful they continue to dance and write poetry. I look forward to you learning more about them and their heartwork.

– Tanaya Winder

This is a dark time in which we find ourselves, but such times are not unusual to the Indigenous writer, to the Native American storyteller. To us, a pandemic, a disease, a breaking of civility, Black lives dehumanized and undervalued, and erasure of our land and our stewards, our protectors of sacred spaces, is not unusual—it is continued oppression to our people as a result of colonial heteronomative patriarchal capitalism. And yet, we Indigenous writers continue to find beauty. And more, us queer Indigenous artists find and experience love, innovate new ways to sing and dance in our poetic expressions, and bridge communities with story, so that futures of unity can be invoked. This is how we continue. This is how we continue… This is how we resist. This is how we persist and thrive…

In honor of Native American Heritage Month I dance, celebrate, and uplift several queer and two-spirit Indigenous writers whose work tells us the stories often unheard, gone missing, yet behold and begin to complete our full truth.

It is urgently necessary to look to our femmes, our gender non-conforming, our two-spirit ancestors and contemporaries, for guidance in solving our biggest issues, and sharing our smallest, most intimate words. It is urgently necessary to listen, and be open to our queer and transgender Indigenous words—for they are unfortunately still unusual, but, thus, provide us with space to renew, reclaim, and replenish our resistance. May these works find your stirring and stir you some more… As a cihuaiyolo butch queen, a Mescalero Apache, a Mexika-Chichimeca/Cano writer and curator, I continue to trouble my own understanding of what I can do to practice innovation in myself and in my social justice. I think to the land and the sky, to the wildfires in our forests, and the hurricanes of the oceans, that we must start to build together new ways of experiencing, and healing each other—non-human bodies included.

Here, with you, we start with poems, stories, words, readings, writings…

– Cuauhtémoc Peranda


When Moontime Comes

When moontime comes
my body and spirit
become grounded
The only time that I feel like a woman
my insides falling out from me
hair flowing from upper lip to toes

I remember the days I’d pray to meet her
Before I felt the heaviness of the moon in my stomach
I’d take birth control just to feel “normal”
was told to suck it up and just have it
            They didn’t know blood wouldn’t come on its own
was told to get a hysterectomy
            as if it were a flu shot
was told I’d never have children of my own
            wasn’t sure if I wanted them anyway

Now she comes when she wants to
And my body full and hairy greets her
Reconciling my masculine parts with the parts
            I was told are feminine


Photograph of Autumn White Eyes by AL Liou.

Autumn White Eyes (she/they) is Oglala Lakota and Anishinaabe, and was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She received a BA in Native American Studies and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College, and an EdM in Arts in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was a 2018-2019 member of the Intercultural Leadership Institute and a recipient of the South Dakota Arts Council’s 2019 Artist Career Development Grant. In 2019, she self-published her first collection of poetry, Instructed by Haŋwí. Autumn is a Queer, two-spirit femme spoken-word artist, multimedia storyteller, and works as an arts educator. She currently resides on Lenape homelands occupied by the settler state of New Jersey. More from this author →