Indigenous Poetry Café: A Cold Night of Warm Emotions
By Megan Reichel
Inside the freezing Kollros Auditorium at the Biology Building East on the 13th of November, members of the community, both of indigenous and non-indigenous heritage, came together to commemorate Native American Heritage Month with the Indigenous Poetry Café. It was a showcase not only for works of poetry, but also of literature and music.
A fourth-year graphic design student at the University of Iowa (and one of the hosts) opened the event with a short introduction to his experience as a Native American person with the Mesquakie nation, known as the Fox tribe. His is currently the only officially recognized Native American tribe in Iowa. He briefly shared the history of his people, how they were driven from their original land and their close relations with the Sauk people.
The event emphasized safety, openness, acceptance, and confidentiality. We were urged not to share the names of the performers or any of what is talked about beyond the walls of Kollros without their consent.
Discussions included the importance of language, community, and family in indigenous culture; the dangers indigenous women face; severing parts of identity while also bringing them together; mental illness and suicide; having to prove your identity as a Native American person; being denied basic rights such as voting and entering certain establishments; police brutality; extreme struggles with being a woman; black, indigenous, and of Irish heritage; and finally, genocide.
After a while, the cold air of the auditorium filled with emotion. The realization set in – the truths of living as a Native American include pride, pain, and persistence.
Native American Heritage Month emphasizes pride in indigenous identity, but it’s important, like any other celebration of identity, to carry that pride every day. The pain that comes with the systematic, unyielding abuse and extermination of Native American peoples within the very country that was stolen from them is something that all Native Americans hold heavily in their hearts. The persistence – to be proud of Native American heritage and identity, to keep their way of life, to keep their beliefs, morals, and traditions alive – is what Native American peoples take part in and what these artists took part in at the Indigenous Poetry Café.
All names have been omitted for the confidentiality of the artists, who beautifully and bravely poured their hearts into our ears.