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Minnesota Poet Laureate Gwen Westerman to visit St. Olaf for series of events

Gwen Westerman co-authored "Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota," which is St. Olaf’s All-Community Read this year.
Gwen Westerman co-authored “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota,” which is St. Olaf’s All-Community Read this year.

Gwen Westerman, an award-winning scholar, writer, artist, and the third Minnesota Poet Laureate, will visit St. Olaf College on April 13 and 14 to conduct a series of workshops, visit classes, and deliver two lectures.

Westerman — an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota Oyate, her father’s people, and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, her mother’s people — is an expert in Dakota history, poetry, and fiber artistry. Her visit to St. Olaf is hosted by the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community with support from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion. It will include a number of opportunities for campus community members to engage with her across multiple disciplines. She will also deliver a keynote address on April 14 that will be open to the public. It will begin at 3:15 p.m. in Regents Hall 150, and it will be streamed and archived online. Westerman will also be speaking during chapel time on April 13 at 11 a.m. in Boe Memorial Chapel.

“Dr. Westerman’s visit is an opportunity to learn more about our neighbors who are Native, and to deepen individual and collective relationships with Indigenous communities,” says Lutheran Center Associate Director Peter Carlson Schattauer ’08.

Westerman co-authored Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, which is St. Olaf’s All-Community Read this year. The book won a 2013 Minnesota Book Award, and Westerman is currently the director of the Native American Literature Symposium, a literature conference organized by a group of independent Indigenous scholars. 

Westerman was appointed the third Poet Laureate of Minnesota in 2021 by Governor Tim Walz, and she is a three-time recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board thanks to her textile and quilting work. She holds her Ph.D. in English from the University of Kansas, and she teaches American and Native Nations literatures, technical communication, and humanities to undergraduate and graduate students at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Westerman has received the Douglas R. Moore Faculty Research Award for her work on Dakota history and language, as well as the Distinguished Faculty Scholar award from MNSU in recognition of her achievements as a scholar, poet, and artist.

Schattauer notes that in the past several years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) has begun to push their congregations and affiliated colleges and universities to deepen their relationship with American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

“Dr. Westerman has done all sorts of work on the Native experience in Minnesota and on Native spirituality, so we knew that inviting her would be a way to deepen our understanding of the religious traditions and diversity in our community,” Schattauer says. “We see Dr. Westerman’s visit as part of the work that St. Olaf is doing to live out its identity as a Lutheran college and to learn more about our Dakota neighbors here in Northfield and on this land.”

Schattauer hopes that members of the community will come to learn about history and stories that haven’t historically been part of the general discourse. “So much of the history we have been taught about this land and this place erases the stories of the Native and Indigenous people who live on and have lived on this land longer than European settlers,” Schattauer says. “There will be a lot of beauty in the experience of hearing her speak from the fountain of knowledge she has about this place where we live, that we call home.”