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Esther Belin: Using Poetry To Express Indigenous Traumas 

Esther Belin: Using Poetry To Express Indigenous Traumas 


After serving as a guest editor for the July and August issues of Poetry Magazine, Diné Navajo poet Esther Belin reflects on how poetry helped her feel comfortable with her identity. Additionally, Belin shares what topics influence her work and what she hopes other people take away from her poetry. 

Finding her Voice 

Esther Belin notes that finding poetry helped her find her true voice, offering a different way to communicate. For her, Belin says that poetry is “about things that are left out of the conversation.” 

To a Native American woman, feeling free with self-expression is especially prevalent. “There’s a strong sentiment that Native Americans aren’t able to write,” Belin attests. 

Adding onto that, the poet says that many people view Natives as “super silent” and unable “to offer critical thinking perspectives, which is completely untrue.” 

Therefore, poetry is the perfect opportunity for Belin to create a personalized verbal structure to tell stories of her people. 

Addressing Intergenerational Trauma from Indian Boarding Schools

One part of Native American history that Belin incorporates heavily into her poems are the Indian boarding schools that existed in the United States and Canada. 

These boarding schools forced thousands of Native American children away from their families. As a result, intergenerational trauma is an issue several Indigenous families face. 

According to Belin, this trauma significantly impacts Natives’ “ability to have engagement with the land that we’re on.” Further, the poet strives to portray this emotional strife in her poetry to help others understand this concept. 

Also, the poet describes that she is one of many Native Americans still working to heal from this trauma. And to Belin, poetry offers an effective form of therapy on top of traditional Western therapy and tribal healing methods. 

An Inspirational Message of Change 

Belin uses her poetry as a way to heal from previous traumas as well as evoke change in the world. 

That said, one thing the poet wants people to take away from her work is a simple recognition of Native American people. Belin wants outsiders to understand that Indigenous writers have a “vast container of stories that are ready to be told” once they get the platform to do so. 

Another societal issue that Belin is passionate about is getting non-Natives to use their power and privilege to make a change in their communities. With that, Belin notes that it is simply not enough for people to say they are an ally of the Native American community. 

Instead, she wants people to “start being active in [the Indian] area around land issues or around changes in monuments.” Overall, Belin wants non-Native Americans to work on educating themselves about her people’s history and the issues relevant today. 

By doing so, Belin attests it will help more Indigenous writers and artists feel more confident sharing their work. 

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