Mankato professor named Minnesota’s 1st Native poet laureate

September 9, 2021 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Dakota scholar, author and artist has been named Minnesota’s poet laureate, the first time the honor has been bestowed upon a Native American, the governor’s office announced Thursday.

Minnesota State University, Mankato English professor Gwen Nell Westerman is a citizen of her father’s people, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in the Dakotas. Her mother’s people are from the Flint District of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

Westerman has written about Dakota history and language. She has won two Minnesota Book Awards for her work about Dakota people called “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota.” Her poetry collection, “Follow the Blackbirds,” was written in English and Dakota. Her poems and essays have been published in journals and anthologies across the country.

Westerman is also a fiber artist. She has works in the permanent collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, the Great Plains Art Museum, the University Art Galleries at the University of South Dakota and the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.


Westerman’s appointment is chance to “reflect on our shared history” and ”imagine the future together,” said Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe.

“Native people are still here. We have always been here – before Minnesota was Minnesota. And we will continue to be here, long into Minnesota’s future,” Flanagan said.