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An American Sunrise

By Joy Harjo

This collection of poems by the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States illuminates her deep connections to her tribal land and her peoples’ history.  Her poems shed light on the history of the Mvskoke people who were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to what is now part of Oklahoma.  Two hundred years later, Joy Harjo returns to her family’s lands and opens a dialogue with history. In An American Sunrise, Harjo finds blessings in the abundance of her homeland and confronts the site where her people, and other indigenous families, essentially disappeared.  From her memory of her mother’s death to her beginnings in the native rights movement, to the fresh road with her beloved, Harjo’s personal life intertwines with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings. Her poems sing of beauty and survival, illuminating the spiritual relationship she shares with her ancestors while pulsing with a quiet anger of living in the ruins of injustice.

Joy Harjo (1951--), the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, is only the second poet to be appointed a third term as U.S. Poet Laureate.  Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, including her most recent, the highly acclaimed An American Sunrise (2019), which was a 2020 Oklahoma Book Award Winner, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (2015), and In Mad Love and War (1990), which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award.  Her first memoir, Crazy Brave, was award the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award, and her second, Poet Warrior: A Memoir, was released from W.W. Norton in Fall of 2021.

American Sunrise, W.W. Norton, 2019, 146 pages

Book Description and Author Photo Sourced at

Listen to Joy Harjo read her poem, “American Sunrise” at

The Seed Keeper

Diane Wilson

Discover a Dakhota family’s struggles to preserve their way of life and the integral role that seeds play in those challenges.  The New Yorker writes about this book: "In chapters that shift among the perspectives of four Dakhóta women—including Rosalie's great-aunt, who grew plants because the seeds in her pocket were 'all that's left of my family'—Wilson tracks Rosalie's attempts to understand her family and her roots, and considers how memory cultivates a sense of connection to the land."

The Seed Keeper: Diane Wilson, Milkweed Editions, 2021.

Book cover design by Mary Austin Speaker, beadwork by Holly Young.

Diane Wilson: Wilson is a Mdewakanton descendent enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation and lives in Shafer, Minnesota. Wilson has served as the executive director for Dream of Wild Health and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, working to help rebuild sovereign food systems for Indigenous peoples.  

Photo credit:

Braiding Sweetgrass

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Tapping into her experience as a scientist, Kimmerer has produced a book that argues that humankind needs to rethink its relationship to the natural world, a refocusing on Native American traditions of sharing, reciprocity, and gratitude rather than exploitation. Braiding Sweetgrass seeks to show us the value of looking at the natural world anew.  She illuminates how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices. Beautifully written, she drives her narrative toward this central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Robin Wall Kimmerer, Milkweed Editions, 2013.

Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Kimmerer is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.  She embraces Indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers.

Author photo: Dale Kakkak

Gardens in the Dunes

Leslie Marmon Silko

This is an epic tale of a young Native American girl, Indigo, who is taken from her tribe, the Sand Lizard people, by white soldiers who destroy her home and family.  She is subsequently placed in a government school where the objective is to remake her in the image of the white culture’s idea of a ‘proper’ young woman.  But while the goal is to remake this spirited young woman into the mold of a white woman, Indigo, never letting go of her cherished Native American traditions, impacts those around her and seeks to reconcile the two worlds that, in so many ways, are diametrically opposed.  Silko is especially good in her word imagery which captures the beauty and sense of the southwest: “The Rain smelled heavenly. All over the sand dunes, datura blossoms round and white as moons breathed their fragrance of magic”

Book cover designed by Jeanette Olender

Leslie Marmon Silko. Throughout her career as a writer and teacher, she has remained grounded in the history-filled landscape of the Laguna Pueblo. Her experiences in the culture have fueled an interest to preserve cultural traditions and understand the impact of the past on contemporary life. Silko has won prizes, fellowships, and grants from such sources as the National Endowment for the Ars and Boston Globe. She was the youngest writer to be included in the Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature for her short story “Lullaby”. 

Gardens in the Dunes:  Simon Schuster, April 2000
Photo retrieved at:

The Painted Drum

Louise Erdrich

How does a mystical drum carved out of a cedar tree and stretched with a massive moose skin transform the lives of those it crosses?  This is the central question posed this former National Book Award Winner.  While appraising the estate of a New Hampshire family descended from a North Dakota, Indian agent, Faye Travers is startled to discover a rare moose skin and cedar drum fashioned long ago by an Ojibwe artisan. This discovery, in turn, launches a sweeping saga, a journey both backward and forward in time, following the strange passage of a powerful yet delicate instrument, carved from nature, and how this gift from nature illuminates the lives encounters and touches. 

Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The Painted Drum: Louise Erdrich, Harper Collins, 2005

Louise Erdrich. Erdrich is is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of what is often described as the “second wave” of the Native American Renaissance.  She has written 28 books as well as volumes of poetry and children’s books. Her novel Love

Author photo, image from  LA Times,photo credit: Hilary Abe

Earth Keeper, Reflections on the American Land

N. Scott Momaday

Momaday, one of the most distinguished voices in American literature, is particularly good at capturing the rich oral tradition of storytelling of Native Americans. In doing so, he also illuminates how the earth is a sacred gift, a place of wonder and abundance and how our modern world threatens that gift.  In this beautifully written book Momaday recalls stories of his childhood, stories that have been passed down through generations, stories that reveal a profound and sacred connection to the American landscape and a reverence for the natural world. For more on Momaday and this fascinating book, see this PBS interview with Momaday.  

Book cover designed by Elina Cohen

N. Scott Momaday.  Momaday is an internationally renowned poet, novelist, artist, teacher and storyteller. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel House of Dawn. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Academy of American Poets Prize, the National Medal of Arts, the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize, among others. He is a member of the Kiowa tribe and lives in New Mexico.

Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land, N. Scott Momaday, Harper, 2020
Photo retrieved at:

Being Ute (As presented at the Tri-Ute Youth conference, May 2018)

A poem by Tanaya Winder

Wake up, greet the sun, and pray

Burn cedar, sweet grass, sage –

sacred herbs to honor the lives we’ve been given,

for we have been gifted these ways since the beginning of time.

Remember, when you step into the arena of your life

think about those who stand beside you, next to, and with you

Your ancestors are always in your corner, along with your people

Read Tanaya Winders' full poem here

Tanaya Winder
is a poet, writer, artist and educator who was raised on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, CO. An enrolled member of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, her background includes Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Diné, and Black heritages. Tanaya writes and teaches about different expressions of love (self love, intimate love, social love, community love, and universal love).

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Durango Botanic Gardens

Our Location:

The Durango Botanic Gardens are physically located at the Durango Public Library, to the north and east of the library.  The library is located at 1900 E. 3rd Ave., Durango.

There is no admission charge.  Stroll the gardens yourself (there is ample signage in most gardens) or call us at 970-880-4841 to arrange a group tour. See our Information Tab for more.

Contact Us:

10 Town Plaza, #460
Durango, CO  81301    

Phone:  970-880-4841

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