Today at Colorado State is Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Pride Resource Center will host a reception at 5:30 pm with the event beginning at 6:00 pm. This event will be a time for “honoring, recognition, and remembrance.”

In light of this vigil and Native American Heritage Month, it’s important to talk about a person who has given a voice and created a dialogue for Native American and Cherokee transgendered persons, also known as Two-Spirited.

Cherokee author, poet, scholar and activist Qwo-Li Driskill is a Colorado native, earning their bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado. Following that, they went on to receive their M.A. from Anitoch University Seattle and a Ph.D in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University.

Image credit: Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times

Currently, Driskill teaches Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.

Driskill has published numerous essays, pieces of creative writing, and two books. The book Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory was published in 2016. In this book, Driskill paints a picture of Two-Spirited persons, going back to early colonial and Cherokee history to better understand the way Native Americans viewed gender and sex before colonization.

As Driskill’s book explains, “In Cherokee, Asegi udanto refers to people who either fall outside of men’s and women’s roles, or who mix men’s and women’s role.” Ultimately, Driskill’s goal is a “re-storying in the present” through a “retelling and imagining of stories that restores and continues cultural memories.”

Before the colonization of the western world, Cherokee and other Native American cultures did not identify gender on the binary recognized by western culture as man and woman. This “term ‘Two-Spirit’ is a contemporary term being used in Native communities to describe someone whose gender exists outside of colonial logic…[and] references Indigenous traditions for people who don’t fit into rigid gender categories.”  

In Driskill’s book, we learn that before 1868 “the concepts of ‘heterosexuality’ and ‘homosexuality’ did not exist” and they were terms created by Karoly Maria Kertbeny. In short, these concepts “are recent European and colonial inventions” that we cannot impose upon different cultures, especially colonized Native Americans.

Since the publication of Asegi Stories, Driskill has added new approaches and language to queer studies conversations, providing a space that fits Cherokee and Native American persons. By reading through colonial texts, Driskill helps us understand the colonial lens imposed on the Native Americans, and how that has shifted sex and gender identity for many Two-Spirited persons.

Driskill’s careful interweaving of Cherokee and colonial perspectives provide Two-Spirited persons a re-written history. Now, those people struggling inside the western binary and gender constructs can return to their cultural beliefs, and learn how to re-interpret their identity in light of those cultural traditions.


Video: Interview with Qwo-Li Driskill

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Image credit: Christopher Felver

Paula Gunn Allen grew up in the 1940s in Cubero, New Mexico, right outside the Laguna Pueblo reservation. Despite mixed heritage (Lebanese-American, Laguna, Sioux, and Scottish), Allen identified most closely with the Laguna Pueblo culture which she grew up in.

Allen initially left college to get married, but after two children and a divorce returned to earn her B.A. in 1966 and then M.F.A. in 1968 from the University of Oregon. By the time she had graduated with her P.h.D. from the University of New Mexico, Allen had published her first book of poetry, The Blind Lion (1974).

Allen’s work is often centered around the intersection of feminism and Native American life. She compiled several anthologies on similar topics, such as Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales & Contemporary Writing by Native American Women (1989) and Song of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1974-1994 (1996). She was also a scholar,
breaking ground in the topic of Western patriarchal societies as they affect the view of Native American life. She published The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions in 1986, effectively introducing the topic to scholars in America and prompting similar arguments from her fellow Native American feminists.

Aside from working directly in the literary field, Allen also taught at a number of universities across the United States, including Fort Lewis College in Colorado and UCLA. She served as a professor of English at and American Indian studies at UCLA from 1990-1999 before retiring.

Allen received an American Book Award, the Native American Prize for Literature, the Susan Koppelman Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas in 2001. In 1999, the Modern Language Association awarded her the J. Hubbell Medal for American Literature.

Allen died in California in 2008 at the age of 68 after a long battle with lung cancer, surrounded by family and friends. “This is a profound loss for the American Indian academic and creative community,” said Hanay Geiogamah, interim director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center. “Professor Gunn Allen was one of the most widely respected and accomplished scholars and writers in the history of American Indian studies in this country.”

Video: “The Sacred Hoop” (Part 1), with Dr. Paula Gunn Allen. “In the following radio interview, aired seven months before her death in 2008, Dr. Paula Gunn Allen discusses her love of trees, nature’s sense of humour, and her terror of the sacred.” (There’s also a second part to this interview, which you can listen to here).

Image credit: Ulf Andersen, Getty

Professor. Writer. Critic. Academic. David Treuer was born in 1970 and is a member of the Ojibwe tribe, people who live mainly in Canada and the northern United States. They are one of the largest groups of indigenous people north of the Rio Grande.

Treuer’s father Robert, a Holocaust survivor, met Treuer’s mother, Margaret Seelye, when Robert taught high school on her reservation. They settled together on the Leech Lake Reservation, where Treuer and his brothers grew up.

Treuer attended Princeton University where he wrote two senior theses for his Anthropology and Creative Writing degrees — his creative writing thesis advisor was Toni Morrison. Treuer went on to earn his anthropology Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1999.

Since graduating, he has taught at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Scripps College in California. Currently, he’s a literature professor for the University of Southern California’s Creative Writing & Literature program.

In 1995, Treuer published his first novel Little. Set up with multiple narrators, the novel mines “the layers of family secrets that have built up over three generations on a reservation town called Poverty, [where] members of the tiny community tell their own stories, leading finally to the heart of the mystery that surrounds an eight-year-old boy named Little.” The novel won the Minnesota Book Award.

Since then, Treuer has published a handful of novels. He has earned the NEH Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2014, he was awarded with the NACF Literature Fellowship.

Treuer continually goes back to his Ojibwe roots and is concerned with the preservation of the Ojibwe language. Currently, Treuer and his brother are working on a book of grammar to carry on knowledge of the language. As he explains, “it’s not clear why so many Indian critics and novelists suggest that stories, even great ones, in English by writers whose only language is English are somehow ‘Indian stories’ that store the kernels of culture.” Through this books, Treuer sheds light on the Ojibwe language and gives Native Americans another language to share their stories.

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If you were going to compete successfully in a white man’s world, you had to learn to play the white man’s game. It was not enough that an Indian be as good as; an Indian has to be better than. ~The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, Janet Campbell Hale

Born in 1947, Janet Campbell Hale is a prominent Native American Writer. Her father was Coeur d’Alene, a tribe name meaning “The Discovered people,” located predominantly in the state of Idaho. Her mother was part Kutenai, Cree and Irish. Hale’s parents’ identity, combined with her own Native American identity, influenced her work, and her exploration of Native American issues, poverty, and women’s issues. Much of her childhood was spent on the Coeur d’Alene and Yakima reservations.

Hale attended City College of San Francisco before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated with a degree in rhetoric in 1974. She also earned an M.A. in English from the University of California at Davis. One of her later novels, The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, was her M.A. thesis project.

With a writing style compared to Hemingway, Hale’s first novel, The Owl’s Song, was published in 1974. Since then, she’s published a handful of other novels, including The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1985.

Many of her novels revolve around the theme of capture, with the main character’s name in The Jailing of Cecelia Capture as Cecelia Capture Welles, an “Indian law student and mother of two” who is “jailed on her thirtieth birthday for drunk driving.” A similar theme appears in Hale’s novel Bloodlines.

Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter was published in 1993 and won the 1994 American Book Award. This book features a series of autobiographical issues that “interweave personal experiences with striking portraits of relatives, both living and dead, to form a rich tapestry of history, storytelling, and remembrance.”

Hale has held faculty positions at colleges and universities across the country. Currently she lives on the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho.


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Image credit: Tom Jones

Barney Bush, not to be confused with George W. Bush’s dog by the same name, is a Shawnee/Cayuga poet and activist. Bush was born in 1946 in Illinois. After completing high school, Bush hitchhiked across the United States for several years. He graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where he studied Art and History, and then the University of Idaho, where he earned an M.F.A. in English.

Bush’s poetry focuses mainly on nature, family, and his Native American heritage. He has published two poetry collections, By Due Process (2004) and Petroglyphs (1982). He has also published some spoken word poetry performances, such as Left for Dead: Prisoners of the American Dream (1994).

Bush has dedicated his time to Native American causes, such as establishing Native American studies programs in universities across the nation and establishing the Institute of the Southern Plains, a Cheyenne Indian school in Oklahoma. He has also served on the chair of the Council of the Vinyard Indian Settlement. He currently lives in New Mexico.

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Image credit: The New Yorker

Louis Erdich was born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota. She was the oldest child from a large family of seven. Her parents were teachers who taught at a boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota, established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Erdich’s Native American identity comes from her mother’s side, who was a Chippewa Indian, and her grandfather, who served as a tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Erdich is currently a member of the same Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Her passion for writing showed at a young age, and her father fueled that passion by offering her a nickel for each story she wrote. Writing runs in the family, and her sister is also a published poet.

Erdich also made history through her education, becoming part of the first class of woman admitted to Dartmouth College, where she received her degree in English. She met her husband at Dartmouth, the director of the new Native American Studies program. She then enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, getting her Masters in Writing Seminars.

Erdich is author of 15 novels, and numerous collections of poetry, children’s books, and short stories. Her first novel Love Medicine was published in 1984 and went on the win that year’s National Book Critics Circle Award. The novel was also featured on the National Advanced Placement Test for Literature.

Since then, her other novels have gained recognition and received many different awards. In 2000, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. In 2005, she became the Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota. Her novel The Plague of Doves, published in 2008, was a finalized for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Just this year, Erdich released her novel Future Home of the Living God. This novel is set in a dystopic world where “evolution has reversed itself.” The book follows protagonist Cedar and “as Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.”

While this novel centers around a dystopian future, Erdich still incorporates elements of her Native American heritage. According to a review from San Francisco Chronicle, “The interplay between Native and white culture continues to fascinate Erdich. Cedar Hawk blends an admiration for liberation theology, exemplified by a magazine she edits, with the traditional Ojibwe virtues of truth, respect, love, bravery, generosity, wisdom, and humility.”

Other themes, like motherhood and womenhood, also emerge in her writing. As Erdich explained in an interview with The Rumpus, “I think women are doing the most interesting writing right now, the most interesting art. I see everything through this lens, of women finally taking their place in the world,” (read the rest of the interview here).

Erdich’s writing will continue to impact and give a voice to these different groups, showing the ways these different identities can work in the world of fiction, even in the dystopian genre.

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~from Jill Salahub


Indian writers might come from different eras, from different geographies, from different tribes, but we all have one thing in common: We are storytellers from a long way back. And we will be heard for generations to come. ~James Welch

As an undergraduate at Oregon State University, I took a Native American Literature class taught by Linc Kesler, who is of indigenous ancestry himself, (Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge South Dakota). In that course, we read two novels by James Welch — Fools Crow and The Death of Jim Loney. Even though I’ve long ago donated various Norton Anthologies and Shakespeare plays and a collection of other novels from those days, I still have my copies of James Welch’s books, along with all the others we read in that course. They are worn, with pages of underlined text and notes written in the margins. With close to twenty years of time passed, I can’t remember the exact discussions we had in class or what I may have said about them in papers I wrote for the course, but I do remember how those stories haunted me. Fools Crow and Jim Loney were characters both heartbreaking and epic, beauty and brutality that stays with a reader for years after.

According to a piece published in The New York Times upon his death in 2003, James Welch “grew up on an Indian reservation, determined to become a writer and put into words the stresses on a people left out of the American dream.” While best known for his novels, Welch was also a poet, and considered a founding author of the Native American Renaissance. In an interview from 2001, Welch said, “Although I consider myself a storyteller first and foremost, I hope my books will help educate people who don’t understand how or why Indian people often feel lost in America.”

James Welch was born in Browning, Montana on November 18, 1940. His father was a member of the Blackfeet tribe and his mother of the Gros Ventre (A’aninin) tribe. After high school and before beginning his study of English Literature at University of Montana, Welch worked as a firefighter for the U.S Forest Service, as a laborer and as an Upward Bound counselor. Once he finished school, he went on to teach and write. In addition to his literary work, Welch served as the Vice Chairman of the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole for ten years. He has honorary doctorates from the University of Montana, Montana State University and the private Rocky Mountain College in Billings.

James Welch wrote poetry exclusively for 7 or 8 years before writing fiction, even though he’s best remembered for his novels. When at University of Montana, he studied with poet Richard Hugo, who told him that “his poetry needed roots, so he should write what he knew about. Write about Indians and Indian culture. Write about home.” Even though at the time he was skeptical that anyone would want to read about the Indian experience — “I knew that nobody wanted to read about Indians, reservations, or those rolling endless plains that turned into Canada just thirty miles north” — he took the advice and began to publish and find his audience. “Happily, I was wrong in thinking that nobody would want to read books written by American Indians about American Indians and their reservations and landscapes.”

Along with writing and teaching, Welch also worked with Paul Stekler on “Last Stand at Little Bighorn,” an Emmy award winning documentary which aired on PBS. Together they also wrote the history, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. Welch’s first novel, Winter in the Blood, was adapted as a 2012 feature film by the same name with Native American writer Sherman Alexie helping to produce the film. Welch’s work earned him many awards and accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.

James Welch died in 2003 in in Missoula, Montana. He suffered a heart attack after battling lung cancer for ten months. Upon his passing, poet Richard Hugo’s widow said, “He was a lovely man, a warm friend. He was great fun in the gentlest kind of way. His writing style was beautiful imagery. It has the poet in it, a quiet mastery of characterization. He was a great man and a great writer.”

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Ricki Ginsberg
Assistant Professor: English Education

Besides your current classes, what else are you doing or have you done that we should know about? Awards? Special projects? Travel? Service work?
I am working on two projects right now. One is a study of nine White teachers who work in culturally diverse urban school districts. I studied these teachers as they were teaching multicultural young adult texts and looked at the challenges that they faced and how they negotiated dilemmas. The data set is really interesting, and I am excitedly crafting manuscripts for publication. I am also working with a few other researchers on a grant study. We studied students in an urban district who were reading and discussing young adult literature with Islam related content and Muslim protagonists. We were curious if these texts helped them build more complex understandings of representations of a likely unfamiliar religion and culture. Beyond this, I am looking forward to attending the National Council of Teachers of English’s annual
conference and the ALAN Workshop, which focuses on the promotion of young adult literature. I work as Assistant Editor of The ALAN Review and enjoy reading and editing manuscripts.

What inspired you to get a degree in English? How did you choose your concentration?  
I served as a high school English teacher for six years and loved teaching. I also really enjoyed researching and presenting at conferences. As an English teacher, I became very interested in teacher preparation and multicultural education, and I decided to return to school to get my PhD in English Education. I loved the experience and was thrilled when I read the CSU job posting because it was a great fit for my interests. I moved from Connecticut this summer and love working at CSU.

We are always trying to debunk the myth that the ONLY options for an English major are to become a writer, teacher, or work in publishing. What sort of possibility, potential do you see for yourself as an English major?
I graduated in 2007 with my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English Education, and many of my friends who were English majors have very successful careers outside of these three options. They work in all sorts of great positions, like human resources and non-profit organizations. I always say, “Everyone appreciates a good reader and writer.” Companies love to have people who can craft beautiful documents, so almost every company could use an English major, in my opinion.

Knowing what you do about it, how would you describe the CSU English department to someone?
A ball of sunshine. Everyone in the department is incredibly bright and warm. I feel as if I have been welcomed with open arms. Further, everyone is passionate about their teaching and research. It’s a great place to me, and I’d recommend this department to anyone!

Why do you think the humanities are important?
I always find kindred spirits in all departments related to the field of humanities. We share a mutual bond of caring about what it means to be human. All (or most) of us value being better people.

What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?
The CSU English Department is phenomenal. You will love the people here!

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
Have fun with your studies! Explore and challenge yourself with courses in which you might not typically enroll. A course might surprise you.

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing?
I am working on a manuscript for publication from the first study (listed in the first interview question). I am looking forward to completing it. Also, I just read Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. It was released last week, and I devoured it in a few hours. It’s fantastic.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Reading! I love reading. I try to read about 200 books per year. If you ever want to chat about books, stop by my office. I could talk about books all day long. I am particularly passionate about young adult literature and multicultural literature.

Where will we find you in five years?
Here, I hope!

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Image credit: Nadya Kwandibens from Red Works Photography

Eden Victoria Lena Robinson was born in 1968 in the Haisla First Nation, located in British Columbia, Canada. Robinson is part of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. As her bio on Penguin Random House Canada explains, “I was born on the same day as Edgar Allan Poe and Dolly Parton: January 19. I am absolutely certain that this affects my writing in some way.”

Robinson began writing at a young age, influenced by writers like Stephen King. As she further explained in her bio, “I was a bookworm, right from the beginning. When I got bored of classes, I’d skip them and go to the library.” She graduated from the University of Victoria with her B.A. and went on to get an M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia.

Her first collection of short stories, Traplines, was published in 1996 and won Britain’s Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for “best regional work by a Commonwealth writer.” Since then, she’s published three novels: Monkey Beach (2000), Blood Sports (2006), Son of a Trickster (2017). Monkey Beach won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award. Son of a Trickster was also shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Her recent novel tackles some large themes. But, according to a review on The Globe and Mail, “Robinson is the rare Canadian author who can write about moments of extreme physical brutality without overly sensationalizing of aestheticizing them; in her book, hurting is just something certain people do to each other.”

The review concludes with the acknowledgment of that: “her depictions of the complex interplay between First Nations people of varying levels of wokeness and cultural immersion are undeniably funny and subtle.”

Robinson works to portray her identity as First Nation in a contemporary, non-sensationalized light. Instead, for example, the character of Jared is “the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon.” Robinson creates characters for indigenous persons and stories about indigenous persons, giving them a book that meets them where they live.


Video: Eden Robinson discusses her latest book, Son of a Trickster, with fellow author and friend, Miriam Toews.

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Image credit: Christopher Felver / Corbis

N. Scott Momaday’s journey began in Oklahoma, where he was born to Natachee Scott Momaday and Alfred Morris Momaday, a writer and a painter, respectively. Momaday’s father is
full-blood Kiowa, while his mother is English, Irish, French, and Cherokee, but Momaday identifies as Kiowa. About a year after Momaday was born, his family moved to Arizona to live
and teach on the reservation, and when he was 12 he moved to New Mexico to live with his grandparents.

After graduating high school, Momaday attended the University of New Mexico for his undergraduate and then Stanford for his M.A. and P.h.D. in English. He graduated in 1963, and
published his first novel in 1968, House Made of Dawn, which is now regarded as a classic. The book won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is credited with spurring the Native American
Renaissance. It also spurred the rest of his career. Momaday has published poetry, essays, novels, plays and children’s books. He is also a renowned scholar.

N. Scott Momaday is a very accomplished man. As well as earning a Pulitzer Prize, which is impressive enough on his own, he has taught either as a tenured or a temporary professor at the
University of Arizona, UC Berkeley, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford. Similarly, he holds somewhere between 12 and 20 honorary degrees from universities around the nation, including Yale and the University of Michigan.

His achievements do not stop there — he has won many awards over his lifetime, notably the National Medal of Arts, given to him by George W. Bush for the celebration of Native
American life featured in his work. That being said, much of his work centers around his Kiowa heritage, the spirituality of his people, and the desire to be at one with nature.

Momaday is now 83 and teaching at the University of Arizona. His most recent work is Again the Far Morning: New and Selected Poems, which he published in 2011.


Video: N. Scott Momaday on Imagination and Language

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