Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm is Anishinaabek from the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation, in Ontario. Kateri is an internationally acclaimed writer, spoken word poet, Indigenous arts activist, publisher and communications consultant. She and her sons live in their community at Neyaashiinigmiing on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. Kateri has two collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, and two CDs of spoken word poetry and music. Her CD A Constellation of Bones was nominated for an Aboriginal Music Award. Kateri’s first collection of short stories, The Stone Collection, was given a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly in a review that called her “luminescent prose” both “fiercely honest” and “diamond-like in its brilliance.” The Stone Collection was a finalist for a Sarton Literary Award. Kateri is the founder and Managing Editor of award-winning publisher Kegedonce Press, which publishes and promotes some of the most beautiful, challenging, celebrated Indigenous literature in the world. Kateri recently received a REVEAL Indigenous Arts Award from the Hnatyshyn Foundation.


Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?

Yes, I did read poetry. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any poem in particular. I’m sure this is because a lot of it did not resonate with me even though I loved poetry as a form of creative expression and the way that the poetry we read used language in ways that excited and inspired me.

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?

I don’t recall exactly; I started writing when I was in elementary school but I don’t recall specifically writing poetry except for school assignments. I was writing poetry by the time I enrolled in York University as an 18 year old undergrad but it wasn’t until some of my poetry was accepted for an anthology of indigenous poetry when I was in my 3rd or 4th year at York that I began to think of myself as a poet. Before that I just thought of poetry and writing as something that I did, like sketching, which I also enjoyed doing at the time.

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?

That's a challenging question. I’m not sure I think of it that way. I’ll have to think about it.

If you have a poem in our anthology what inspired you to write it?

I was doing some research at the national archives and I come across some work by Selwyn Dewdney in which he wrote about the belief in dodem and spirit animals of the local Anishinaabek from the Rainy River area. It was written with a kind of incredulity that suggested we are primitive in our thinking and that our belief systems are nonsensical. There was an edge of ridicule that I found profoundly troubling. I could not stop thinking about it and about the violence that results from simplistic interpretations of our deep spiritual and cultural beliefs. “sturgeon” was the best way I could express myself.

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?

"the knowing" by Connie Fife.


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