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An Important Honor for Joy Harjo and “Living Nations, Living Words”

The following is a guest post by our colleague Rob Casper, Head of  Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress.

Two men and eight women stand on a stage.

2022 ATALM Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Award honorees, including, Lori Pourier, representing the Library of Congress, next to former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (near center). Photo: Barbara Bair.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo continues to earn praise for her work in the position. On October 26th at its annual convention, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries., and Museums (ATALM) presented one of its Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards to the Library of Congress and Harjo for “Living Nations, Living Words,” her signature project as the nation’s first Native American poet laureate.

Harjo’s project was honored with the Outstanding Project/Non-Native Organization Award. In the award citation, ATALM said it “applauds Harjo’s work to illuminate the poetry of Native America and expresses its gratitude to the Library of Congress for a living tribute to a vibrant culture.”

Established in 2007, the Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards program identifies and recognizes organizations and individuals that serve as outstanding examples of how Indigenous archives, libraries, museums, and individuals contribute to the vitality and cultural sovereignty of Native Nations. The award takes its name from the sculpture that stands atop the Capitol of Joy’s home state, Oklahoma.

Accepting the award alongside Harjo was Lori Pourier, president of the First Peoples Fund and member of the Board of Trustees for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Pourier (Oglala Lakota), an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, represented the Library at the ceremony and offered remarks on behalf of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.

“Living Nations, Living Words” features a sampling of work by 47 Native American poets through an interactive Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection. Each location marker reveals a Native poet and features an image, biography and link to hear the poet recite and comment on an original poem.

“For my signature project as the 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, I conceived the idea of mapping the U.S. with Native Nations poets and poems,” said Harjo, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation. “I want this map to counter damaging false assumptions — that Indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human. You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry.”

Congratulations to Joy for this honor and thank you to the Association for shining a spotlight on it. And, really, hooray for all the people that “Living Nations, Living Words” will continue to reach, to inform and to inspire.

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