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How Indigenous poets are re-centering their language and ancestry

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Kimberly Blaeser will speak at the Central Library Tuesday, Feb. 7 as a part of the Kansas City Public Library's "Poetry as Reciprocity: Indigenous Nations Poets Celebrate Language Back" event.
John Fisher
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Kimberly Blaeser
Kimberly Blaeser will speak at the Central Library Tuesday, Feb. 7 as a part of the Kansas City Public Library's "Poetry as Reciprocity: Indigenous Nations Poets Celebrate Language Back" event.

Indigenous languages have been systematically suppressed throughout history. An event at the Kansas City Public Library central branch on Wednesday evening highlights poets who are bringing tribal languages back into their poetic processes.

Growing up on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, Kimberly Blaeser remembers her grandparents speaking Anishinaabemowin — their first language. She knows how to speak it, but wouldn't quite call herself fluent.

For many Indigenous people in the United States, even knowing the language is rare. The history of language erasure in boarding schools significantly suppressed the use of tribal languages nationwide.

That's part of why Blaeser started Indigenous Nations Poets, a national organization to mentor emerging Indigenous writers, in 2020. Her work puts her at the forefront of the Language Back movement, an effort to revive native languages and better include young people in Indigenous culture. It also helps to normalize Indigenous languages in the arts.

"There's still a gap for writers of Indigenous ancestry when they enter the publishing world, or when they go through creative writing programs," Blaeser told Up To Date. "So it's a space where they can simply write and not have to explain their history."

Blaeser will speak at the Kansas City Public Library central branch tonight as a part of the "Poetry as Reciprocity: Indigenous Nations Poets Celebrate Language Back" event.

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