Monday, March 25, 2013

Native poetry

they collect the artifacts to study the past.
out of the bone fragment, chipped stone and delicate
cedar weave is written a history long forgotten.
in all this where is the truth?
what is the history?
maybe history should not be the question,
for history is written
not passed on in a story at the bighouse,
or in a lesson to the young.

yet while the archeologist’s artifact
and the historian’s document
remain important,
too often, the record shows the history
from the historian’s own living eye.

the truth is perhaps
in elders who remember,
who are living and looking to the young.
what can be comes from
the spirit of the past,
the wisdom of the elder,
and the new strength of the young.

the history is alive,
not to be found in an old site, but
present in the people.

and when the record changes to tell
a more accurate “history”
or our people, then the true
spirit of our past, present and future
can be given,
and in return valued.

Indian Woman
I am a squaw
a heathen
a savage
basically a mammal

I am a female
only in the ability
to breed
and bear papooses
to be carried
on a board
or lost
to welfare

I have no feelings

The sinuous planes
of my brown body
carry no hint
of the need
to be caressed
Its only use
to be raped
beaten and bludgeoned
in some
B-grade western

I have no beauty

The lines
cut deep
into my aged face
are not from bitterness
or despair
at seeing my clan destroyed
one by one
they are here
to be painted or photographed
and hung on lawyers wall
I have no emotions

The husky laughter
a brush of wings
behind eyes
soft and searching
lightly touching others
is not from caring
but from the ravaged
beat of black wings
rattling against the bars
of an insanity
that tells me
something is wrong here.

Some one is lying.

I am an Indian Woman

Where I walk
beauty surrounds me
grasses bend and blossom
over valleys and hills
vast and multicoloured
in starquilt glory

I am the keeper
of generations

I caress the lover gently
croon as I wrap the baby
with quietness I talk
to the old ones
and carefully lay to rest
loved ones

I am the strength
of nations

I sing to the whispering
autumn winds
in the snow
I dance
filling my body
with powder
feeling it
knowing it

I am the giver of life
to whole tribes

I carry the seeds
carefully through dangerous
give them life
among cold and towering
watch them grow
battered and crippled
under all the lies
I teach them the songs
I help them to hear
I give them truth

I am a sacred trust
I am Indian woman.

Jeannette C. Armstrong

JEANNETTE C. ARMSTRONG Okanagan. b. 1943
Born on the Penticton Indian Reserve in British Columbia, Jeannette Christine Armstrong is a fluent speaker of the Okaganan language and a student of her community’s traditional teachings.

‘The Native people of this land developed a lifestyle through a unique worldview. I believe its underlying values and structures are important contributions to the pool of knowledge and critical factors in reversing and reshaping a worldview whose values foster an attitude of self-destruction.’

Armstrong holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Victoria and is recognized as a visual artist as well as an activist and author. Her publications include two children’s books, the ground-breaking novel Slash (1987), the collection of poems Breath Tracks (1991), and the book of essays Looking at the Words of Our People: First Nations Analysis of Literature (1993), which she edited.

‘I write because it is a way to contribute to the vast dialogue of the human spirit in its course through time. It is a way to reach others I may never meet in person now and in the future. I appreciate voices from the past like Pauline Johnson and my own great aunt, Mourning Dove. They are windows into a time and place I can never experience directly myself. I write because oral literature is now extremely vulnerable.’

Armstrong is the Director of the En’owkin International School of Writing in Penticton, British Columbia, which offers Canada’s only creative writing program designed for Native people. She has also served on her community’s traditional council, and she consults with international councils and working groups on the wide variety of issues of concern to indigenous cultures.

big bear
i walked where big bear danced
i feel his joy in the wind
that carries his messages
from the past
i danced where big bear danced
his dance steps an imprint on the land
his face a shadow that calls to me
the wind whispering his name
i sleep where big bear sleeps
a prisoner with no walls to hold him
he remained a prisoner
so he danced in his mind
when he heard the steel doors slam
he journeyed on the breeze
that caressed him in his cell
he sang his songs in silence
i walk where big bear danced
i heard his prayer
i felt his pain
i am his anger
big bear still dances
on the ground where i walk

Duncan Mercredi

Duncan Mercredi Inninew/Cree b. 1951
Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on 17 August 1951, Mercredi moved at the age of 16 to Cranberry Portage to finish high school. After graduation he worked for twenty years in construction, most of the time as a surveyor, throughout Manitoba. He recalls the many instances of overt and covert racism he encountered during that time, including the simple surprise that a Native man might be employed with a white survey crew. On one occasion his foreman related a comment by a farmer who had been observing Mercredi working: ‘That little Japanese guy sure has good eyesight.’

Mercredi is now a researcher with the federal government, but he is also a prolific and committed writer. He recalls the influence of the stories told by kookum [grandmother]: ‘I always thought how incredible she was that she could take me places and experience events that she had stored away in her mind and heart.’ Although his grandmother gave Mercredi the desire to write, he did not pursue writing until his late thirties: ‘After meeting Maria Campbell, Jordan Wheeler, Lee Maracle, and other writers of First Nations ancestry, I began writing with a passion as I felt the need for others, meaning “white society” – or is it mainstream society? – to experience what I have and in my words.’

Mercredi has published Spirit of the wolf: raise your voice: poems (1990), Dreams of the wolf in the city : poems (1992), and Wolf and shadows: poems (1995). His next book, The Duke of Windsor – Wolf sings the Blues, is tentatively scheduled for publication in early 1998.

I am a Canadian
I’m a lobster fisherman in Newfoundland
I’m a clambake in P.E.I.
I’m a picnic, I’m a banquet
I’m mother’s homemade pie
I’m a few drafts in a Legion hall in Fredericton
I’m a kite-flyer in a field in Moncton
I’m a nap on the porch after a hard day’s work is done.
I’m a snowball fight in Truro, Nova Scotia
I’m small kids playing jacks and skipping rope
I’m a mother who lost a son in the last great war
And I’m a bride with a brand new ring
And a chest of hope
I’m a Easterner
I’m a Westerner
I’m from the North
And I’m from the South
I’ve swam in two big oceans
And I’ve loved them both
I’m a clown in Quebec during carnival
I’m a mass in the Cathedral of St. Paul
I’m a hockey game in the Forum
I’m Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau
I’m a coach for little league Expos
I’m a baby-sitter for sleep-defying rascals
I’m a canoe trip down the Ottawa
I’m a holiday on the Trent
I’m a mortgage, I’m a loan
I’m last week’s unpaid rent
I’m Yorkville after dark
I’m a Winnipeg gold-eye
I’m a hand-made trout fly
I’m a wheat-filed and a sunset
Under a prairie-sky
I’m Sir John A. MacDonald
I’m Alexander Graham Bell
I’m a pow-wow dancer
And I’m Louis Riel
I’m the Calgary Stampede
I’m a feathered Sarcee
I’m Edmonton at night
I’m a bar-room figiht
I’m a rigger, I’m a cat
I’m a ten-gallon hat
And an unnamed mountain in the interior of B.C.
I’m a maple tree and a totem pole
I’m sunshine showers
And fresh-cut flowers
I’m a ferry boat ride to the Island
I’m the Yukon
I’m the North-West Territories
I’m the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort Sea
I’m the prairies, I’m the Great Lakes,
I’m the Rockies, I’m the Laurentians
I am French
I am English
And I am Metis
But more than this
Above all this
I am a Canadian and proud to be free.

DUKE REDBIRD Chippewa, b. 1939
Duke Redbird was born 18 March 1939 on the Saugeen Reserve on the Bruce Peninsula, near Owen Sound, Ontario.

Redbird is a former President of the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association, former Director of Land Claims Research and former Vice-President of the Native Council of Canada. He has worked with all levels of government and the private sector to meet the needs of Indians in the fields of education, alcohol and drug abuse, economic development, housing, tourism, culture, the arts, and health care.

In the seventies he performed his poetry to audiences throughout Canada and the United States. In 1977 a multi-media musical based on his poetry was performed in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during Silver Jubilee celebrations in Ottawa. In the following year Redbird received his Master’s degree from York University.

The Beggar

i met a boozed-up, begging Indian
on the proverbial mainstreet
ten years ago
when i had no money
i would have fed him
i slinked off
in my unfaded blue jeans
harry rosen plaids
and turquoise rings.

i stole a poem.

Emma LaRocque

I was born early in the dawn of 1949 in a small log cabin in the small Metis community of Big Bay, Alberta. The midwives were nohkom (my grandmother) and my aunt Eleanor, who was felled by tuberculosis before I could know her.

Writing is the art of bringing to birth the human condition in thought form. I remember when I first announced I was going to be a writer to my grade eight classmates, and everybody but my good teacher laughed. Then again, who knew what a “writer” was? We were the offspring of a greet Cree oral literature. Writing was not what we did. Nohkum and Ama (our family term for my mother; short for Nimama in Cree) were superbly skilled storytellers. And, whenever she went to town she brought me comic books, even before I could read.

I try to do in English what nohkum and Ama could do in Cree. But I have spent many years in university, as a student and a professor. There is tremendous pressure to keep up with the academic Joneses, so I have had to read and write scholarly articles, theses, and dissertations. Unfortunately, too many scholars apparently assume scholarly writing must, by definition, be pedantic, stifling, and soul-less! But I am Metis – I refuse to let conventional dictates of Western scholarship bury me in dry dust.

In fact, I see no necessary disconnection between being a scholar and a poetic writer, or a poet. While my essays, social commentaries, and research articles have been published (in their respective eras and mediums) since 1971, only a handful of poems have been previously published. Yet, I have been a closest poet all these years. The words of poetry are closest/closeted to one’s inner being. And, just as good scholarship demands excellence, good poetry demands an excellent way with words. So, it is with some trepidation (a scholar and writer’s fear of the revenge of criticism) – and with not a small sense of exposure – that I submit my inner being words to the public.

Needless to say, my mother’s journey (as yet unwritten) has profoundly influenced mine. I am still in the process of writing a collection of “Mom Poems”; when I am finished, I hope to have them published. Some of these poems appear here, and I dedicate them to the memory of Maggie D. LaRocque, for whom there will always be an ache in my heart. Kih-mi-tat-ti-nan, Ama.

George Kenny (Ojibway)
George Kenny was introduced earlier in this anthology through his short story “On the Shooting of a Beaver.” George Kenny lived on the Lac Seul Reserve in Ontario. He left the reserve at the age of six and grew up in small northwestern Ontario towns. His writing reflects experiences in both Native and non-Native worlds. He dedicated his book, Indians Don’t Cry, to his father and mother. His father was a trapper and labourer, but he never discouraged George from becoming a writer. His mother encouraged him to finish school. In his dedication he acknowledges the contribution his parents made to his success. The book was made into a radio play and videotape called October Stranger.

Sunset on Portage
(from the bus depot)

the Winnipeg sun dies

on the blue logo

of the Bank of Montreal.

Fluorescent and neon lights,
man’s creation


God’s technology.

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