Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Author: Olivia Lloyd
Kinsale Hueston is a Native American activist from Corona Del Mar, California. She was named National Student Poet of the western region of the U.S. through the Scholastic Art and Writing program in 2017. She will be attending Yale University in the fall of 2018.
Olivia Lloyd: Could you explain how you got your start in activism?
Kinsale Hueston: The introduction was the Native American community where I live. It was really helpful in kick starting my activist and poetry career. I got to meet tons of different Native Americans from tribes and reservations, and they were very involved in the activist scene in Los Angeles. They would constantly be up to date with protests going on, we would always discuss current events. What especially got me involved in activism was the Dakota Access Pipeline, when all that was happening. I remember talking with other Natives in my area and talking about how protests were being organized. I was finally old enough to go to protests, and that was the first time I jumped right in. I made the poster, I chanted, I spread the word on social media and I drove head first into this ‘I’m not afraid to be loud and proud and narrative.’ I think that narrative has carried on into my poetry and everything else I do. Everything fosters the growth of another thing.
Lloyd: How old were you when you went to the Dakota Access Pipeline event?
Hueston: For Dakota Access Pipeline I was 16. I’ve been into activism before that, but I wasn’t sure how to exactly channel that into a physical manifestation. This was something I felt really strongly about so I jumped right in. After that, I wanted to go to all the protests. I wanted to go to the Planned Parenthood protest; I went to one in New York. It was pretty late. I was a pretty old teenager, so I think even starting late is good. You can still get really into activism.
Lloyd: What was your goal in mind for the rally [Orange County Women’s March in January]?
Hueston: I went in with a very specific goal, and that was to march for missing and murdered indigenous women. I know in Los Angeles at the march, there was a big group of Native Americans who marched for that and I know in New Mexico too. I knew there would be a great crowd of Natives voicing their concern about missing and murdered indigenous women and the sexual assault of indigenous women which is so much higher than women in the rest of the nation. It’s really an important women, and I feel like nobody talks about it.
Lloyd: Do you ever find that you encounter people who are not as much a proponent of the activism as you are? How do you confront those people, and how do you show them what it is you march for and why you do what you do?
Hueston: I believe everyone has a right to express themselves the way they want to, but once they start bleeding into active criticism and saying that marching or being an activist for a specific cause is wrong, that’s when I start to push back a little bit. I think when I encounter people who have a different worldview, the best thing is to let them know that you’re listening. If they know that you’re listening to them, they’ll feel comfortable, and they will more likely be susceptible to changing their mindset or to at least listen to what you have to say. If you go into a conversation with somebody who is not a feminist, who is not aware of Native American issues and is not willing to learn about them, with the fixed mindset: ‘I am going to change this person’s mind,’ you are not going to get anywhere. You should listen to what they have to say even if you don’t agree with it, because that will make them more susceptible to listening to you and what you have to say. They’ll at least think about what you have to say. You can’t change someone through one conversation, but you can start if you listen.
Lloyd: What is your personal role as somebody in the indigenous community who is fighting as a youth leader in your area?
Hueston: I think primarily my role is through my writing. As a national student poet [through the Scholastic Art and Writing Program] and the first Native American national student poet that has been appointed, I think I represent a group of people that has been marginalized, specifically teenage Native Americans. I hope that I can channel our voices, through my poetry, and let the general public become aware of these issues we’re facing on reservations, in cities, in our everyday lives, [regarding] violence against Native American women, the exploitation of our land and resources, assault and all these different things. I hope at least that I can provide a platform for my community and at least begin to educate the nation on these issues. And [I hope] to help inspire other Native American teenagers to do the same.
Lloyd: Would you say that your activism and your writing go hand in hand, or did one happen before the other?
Hueston: I think they coexist and they build off each other. Before my activism I had always loved writing, like being 7 or 8 years old and writing poems and stories. I fell in love with reading and mimicking bits of Emily Dickinson. But then I think as I got more involved in activism and activist culture, poetry was such an easy way for me to express how I felt and express who I was and begin to educate my community on these issues that Native Americans face. Now the two are kind of hand in hand. I think my strongest outlet for my activism nowadays is through my writing and my work.
Lloyd: Do you think that applies broadly to how people use writing as a form of activism and as a form of spreading their voice? How do you think people can transmit their voice through other art forms?
Hueston: Any kind of art form, whether painting, drawing, sketching, music, poetry, flash fiction, anything, if you are true to yourself and you are open to trying to find yourself in your work, then you will be happy with what you’re creating. I think for a long time I was really afraid of delving into this part of me that I wasn’t completely comfortable with because I had grown up in a predominantly white community in Southern California. I wasn’t really comfortable celebrating who I was. But as I learned to do that through my work and gradually delve into these deeper and darker issues, I think that it really strengthened this connection between myself and my work.
Lloyd: What do you plan on doing from here? What is your goal for the future?
Hueston: I have some poetry readings coming up and I hope to read some of those and talk about some of the same issues I march for. I am working at the Historic Sherman Indian Boarding School in Riverside, California. I’m holding a workshop there for Native American teenagers to help them express themselves through poetry and learn to develop their own voices and celebrate their heritage just as I learned to do through poetry. And I’m trying to create a big poetry slam for them. They used to have an annual one, but I’m hoping to reinstill that through these workshops.
Lloyd: What does the future of female and Native American rights look like after the past two Women’s Marches have taken place?
Hueston: I think we are gaining steam, and I think people are much more aware of these issues than they were before the [2016 presidential] election. I feel like we would have been on the same path of being quietly pushed to the side and marginalized, if not for what has happened. It sounds negative, but I think when the strongest resistance arises, that’s when these marginalized voices are more important than ever. So I think a lot more people are aware of what is happening and that makes me really happy. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to involve them even more in these issues, perhaps try to solve them. We’ve begun by accepting them, but now we should take action.