Native American poet Natalie Diaz speaks at Harris Hall about
native culture in literature. The talk was co-sponsored by
the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research and
Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. (photo by Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily
Northwestern welcomed poet Natalie Diaz on Wednesday to share
her poetry and lead a conversation about preserving indigenous culture
The conversation, co-sponsored by Weinberg College of Arts and
Sciences' Department of English and the Center for Native American
and Indigenous Research, took place in Harris Hall as part of the
Moore Lecture Series. The project aims to provide a platform for
established writers to talk to students, faculty and other community
members, according to the English department's website.
Diaz, who is Pima and Mojave, was born in the Fort Mojave Indian
Village in Needles, California. She spent more than half of her
life as a professional basketball player and is now, among many
other titles, an author and archivist of indigenous languages.
"She is a poet, a sister, a warrior and amazing human," said
English Prof. Chris Abani, who introduced Diaz.
Abani and Diaz both emphasized the importance of using humor
when talking about difficult subjects. Diaz maintained a lighthearted
tone, even during heavy conversations on topics such as the occupation
of Native land, abuse, molestation and death.
Diaz said she wrestles with her many titles when writing poetry,
one of them being her identity as an indigenous woman.
Introducing her love poem, "Manhattan is a Lenape Word," the
poet described her writing as a form of empowerment and a way for
her to reshape the image of indigenous womanhood. Diaz said the
poem draws a parallel between the occupation of indigenous land
and that of the indigenous woman's body, representing how the latter
is labeled as an entity open to other people's pleasure, she said.
"If you are a woman who's suffered from any kind of tragedy
or trauma, then immediately you lose the autonomy for tenderness
and the autonomy for love," Diaz said.
She added that her writing gives her a freedom that is not always
offered to other indigenous women.
Diaz and English Prof. Kelly Wisecup reflected on the idea of
geographical and bodily cartography and the meanings people project
upon lines on a sheet of paper.
"Cartographies teach us to accept fictions," Wisecup said, speaking
of geopolitical borders that are not actually operative on the ground.
She added that maps in the U.S. often draw a narrative of "Native
Further into the conversation, Diaz described the current state
of the country as "a racial war" in which groups of people are being
erased in the same way Native Americans have been erased. For instance,
she said the naming of rooms at Arizona State University, where
she teaches, after Native American nations is ironic because they
are built on "dead bodies and memorial ground."
Weinberg junior Monica Garcia told The Daily that as a Latina
writer, she especially resonated with Diaz's message.
"Poetry has been conceptualized as something that's always like
white males writing about nature, but that's not true," Garcia said.
"I feel like poetry has always been about storytelling, and her
being able to capture stories that nobody else could have capture
is really important."