"Native Voices: Indigenous American Poetry, Craft and Conversations"

While teaching a course in Native American literature at the University of Idaho in 2017, writer CMarie Fuhrman came to a somewhat shocking realization. Looking around from the front of the classroom, she could see one Nez Perce student, bringing the sum total of native people in the room to two. Fuhrman, who said she is of Southern Ute and Italian heritage realized even in Idaho, in Indian Country, students were getting much of their information from non-native instructors based on non-native theory. And classroom discussions were suffering to the point she felt her heart go out to her student.

“Non-native people were telling her what her indigeneity meant,” Fuhrman said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Now, Fuhrman has helped create a resource for classes exactly like that one, but also for lovers of poetry and the written word. “Native Voices: Indigenous American Poetry, Craft and Conversations” was released in April by Tupelo Press. It is co-edited by Fuhrman and Dean Rader.

“In the beginning was the story, and within the story was voice, and within voice was hope,” begins the introduction to “Native Voices.” “Within this book, and these voices, and these poems is hope. There are other things too — anger, despair, interrogation, remembering, healing — but there is a lot of hope, a lot of generosity, and a lot of gratitude.”

The book goes well beyond anthology. Each poet was invited to write about their approach to writing and name influences to their work, native or not.

“Sometimes we need to allow the poets, or the writers to speak for themselves,” Fuhrman said. “It’s super important native people aren’t just talked about, but talk for themselves.”

“Native Voices” is divided into sections by poet, with a selection of their poems, the essay and often an influencing poem.

“I would have loved to have had this book when I was teaching native lit,” Fuhrman said.

“Native Voices” includes the work of dozens of poets working today, with the notable exception of Adrian C. Lewis, who died in 2018. The book is dedicated to him.

In conversation, Fuhrman speaks about the need to showcase a variety of works. While the body of poetry often references history and colonization, it also speaks to life and love. Yet Native American poetry gets treated as a sub-genre, as lesser art when that is not the case, Fuhrman explained. It becomes easy to look at the writing through a stereotypical lens.

“We need to see that the art... is created by people on a level that is equal to anyone else,” she said.

Fuhrman hopes the anthology will be a bridge toward healing for native and non-native peoples.

“The more we get to understand and know each other, the more we get the opportunity to heal,” she said.

Rachel Hergett is the editor of Ruckus, the arts and culture publication of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She can be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or (406) 582-2603.

Rachel Hergett can be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.