Imagine being taken away from everything that you hold dear. Your songs, your language, your clothes, your culture all being stripped away from you. Then, it ends but the pain is still there. Everyone believes that enough has been done to repay the ones affected. In reality, these people still live in desolation with their identity robbed. The Native American community has faced these challenges and seem to “carry on” with life. For Kinsale Hueston, this is far from the truth because she knows that Native Americans are still facing injustices to this day. She knows how identity is the main question that yearns to be answered by all Indigenous People affected by their loss of culture throughout their history.
19-year-old Kinsale Hueston shocked the world with her powerful, revolutionary poetry. In 2017, she was named the 2017 National Student Poet by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and was featured in a Times article, “People Changing How We See the World.” Her poetry is her voice and it acts as a form that “empowers my[Hueston’s] activism”(Hueston). Her art tackles the social injustices facing the Native American community by expressing her beliefs over the violence and sexist attitudes facing Indigenous women and the forced assimilation of Native American culture to white culture (Times).
Hueston, a member of the Navajo Nation, began her journey as a poet at a young age. She entered many competitions showcasing her work and was soon recognized by the media on Times. She went to Yale University to seek out what she gains from her writing. In her interview with Vincent Schilling, Hueston explains the different meanings behind her poetry based on the struggles of the Native American population and how “there’s also so much historical trauma with assimilation, and forced assimilation, and forcing Natives to move to cities”(Indian Country Today Schilling). This observation evolves from Hueston’s involvement with speaking out against forced assimilation and how the land she lives on was taken forcefully from Indigenous people. She talks to the Indigenous peoples who have lost their identity from this forced assimilation and how her poetry reaches out to encourage them to seek their roots.
She uses her poetry to talk about loss of identity in her own family. In her poem “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” Hueston compares her great grandparent’s stories of going to Native American boarding schools with her grandparent’s own stories. She explains how her great grandparents confronted this assimilation and were “branded like animals”(Hueston). This comparison is powerful because Hueston uses this language to show how her grandparents were treated horribly and losing their identity through the branding. On the other hand, her grandparents “didn’t speak a word of English” and (to her imagination) “were laughing because they outlived their torturers and bathed in culture like yucca froth”(Hueston). Interestingly, Hueston shows how her great grandparents lived through forced assimilation and let their culture seem like it was being taken away from them with a single line of numbers etched on their skin. Whereas, with her grandparents, she paints a lively picture of a wedding where they are laughing and spreading their happiness since they have forgotten about the efforts of the forced assimilation and continue practicing their own culture. She likens her grandparents to yucca, which is a symbol for their land and rich culture that remains unaffected and spreads throughout the land.
This poem’s title is ingeniously named after Captain Richard Pratt’s common saying “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” which translates to his agenda of forcing Native Americans to assimilate to white culture by going to Native American boarding schools. Hueston is juxtaposing her families’ point of view in these boarding schools to Pratt’s own ignorant belief that assimilation is key to having humanity. She is trying to show how their culture continues to live on even through this massacre of Native American beliefs. Before her poem begins, Hueston dedicates her words to the “60,000 children oppressed, abused, or killed in the Native American boarding schools.” She is trying to reach out to the people affected by the torments of forced assimilation and to the people who are ignorant of this piece in history. This dedication is important because she addresses the audience and the gravity of forced assimilation in the lives of Indigenous peoples. As her form of activism, she wants to educate and inform the masses that do not know about the use of Native American boarding schools to constrain Native American youth into losing their identity (Kinsale Hueston).
Her words and the structure of her poems allow Hueston to show what she stands up for and how she is willing to do it. Her poems have common themes of finding one’s identity, injustices facing Indigenous people, and violence/sexism against women. In another poem, “Monument Valleys, or Our Bodies” Hueston emphasizes the importance of women in society and how their bodies reflect the earth. But, this poem also reflects a darker note in today’s society. Hueston talks about the sexualization of women and how they take “no white man’s will, no pill dropped and drowned in plastic party cups”(Hueston). Hueston is alluding to the fact that Native American women are constantly sexualized and seen as objects in our society. This problem usually goes unnoticed and unbothered so Hueston is exposing this ongoing injustice that still persecutes Indigenous people. In the article from Indian Country Today, Kinsale Hueston explains her journey as a poet through her experiences at the Aspen Idea Festival, Indigenous Peoples Day event, and the Native American Cultural Center. Hueston describes her time as a National Student Poet as a discovery to what being a poet could mean for herself and other Native American youth (Indian Country Today). Her work inspired others to look at these controversial topics since she was an avid member of her community.
Kinsale Hueston has made essential strides in educating others about the issues that still plague Indigenous people. Not only has she expressed her opinions through her poetry but through her social media platforms and by attending different protests that demand Native Americans their rightful justice. At the Indigenous Peoples Day protest, Hueston confidently holds up her sign, “People over Pipelines.” This sign alludes to the ongoing conflict between the US government and Indigenous peoples where pipelines are being built on Native American reservations. Indigneous peoples are being ignored while their land is violated so it is significant to see Hueston’s participation as an activist at protests. Hueston does not shy away from exposing the truth for she always stands to represent all Indigenous Peoples. Her poetry is a beacon to those who need to find their way back to their lost culture and family.
“Woman, this land is mine: a declaration of reclamation as still, as woman, I rise”(Hueston “Monument Valleys, or Our Bodies”).
Bajekal, Naina. “How 9 Artists Keep Their Creativity Alive.” Time, Time, 7 Feb. 2019, https://time.com/longform/artists-through-the-ages/.
Hueston, Kinsale. “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Kinsale Hueston Portfolio, 2018, https://www.kinsalehueston.com/.
Hueston, Kinsale. “Kinsale Hueston.” Kinsale Hueston, https://www.kinsalehueston.com/.
Hueston, Kinsale. “Monument Valleys, or Our Bodies.” Kinsale Hueston Portfolio, 2018, https://www.kinsalehueston.com/.
Hueston, Kinsale. Vimeo, Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, 24 Sept. 2019, https://vimeo.com/228702279.
Schilling, Vincent. “Kinsale Hueston, Navajo, One of TIME Magazine’s ‘People Changing How We See the World’.” IndianCountryToday.com, Indian Country Today, 8 March 2019, https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/lifestyle/kinsale-hueston-navajo-one-of-time-magazine-s-people-changing-how-we-see-the-world-mzl3yMC0T0aNfYEe3YqW7A/.