On this Native American Heritage Day, we would like to highlight the work of one of many Coast Salish tribal members who have helped us shed some of our cultural blinders and sharpen our understanding of the past and present of the place where we live and work. Rena Priest is a Lhaq’temish (Lummi) tribal member and writer. She’s the current Washington State Poet Laureate—the first Indigenous poet to serve in that distinguished role.  

Poet Laureate Rena Priest on Vendovi Island, April 2022

We were honored to meet Rena in person during one of our Vendovi Wildflower Walks last April, when she was gracious enough to speak to the group about her ancestors’ history in the islands and ongoing treaty rights. 

Rena’s poetry draws on history, science, and pop culture to tell stories and reveal truths. While many of her poems employ lyrical passages to create beautiful imagery, they also shine a light on the multi-generational trauma of land theft, genocide, and dispossession of Indigenous people under colonialism.  

A good example is one of her recently published poems, titled “Welcome to Indian Country.” It begins with heartwarming, simple verses, almost like a nursery rhyme: 

Where is Indian Country? 

It’s everywhere we stand. 

It’s anywhere we dance. 

It’s where the earth loves 

the feel of our feet.

After a few more lovely, lilting stanzas, the poem ends with a punchline that contrasts sharplyand tellingly–with the rest of its welcoming tone: 

Welcome to Indian Country. 

It’s everywhere we dance and 

where the feast is truly grand. 

Welcome to Indian Country. 

Now give us back our land! 

It gives us something to think about on this day, and every day.

Read the entire poem and find links to more of Rena’s poetry here: “Welcome to Indian Country”  

 Learn more about Rena and her work here.