Joy Harjo's Web Log
Joy Harjo posts reports here on her trips and other happenings.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Some New Year's Thoughts, the Muscogee Nation News Jan 07 Column
Mvskoke Nation News Column January 07
The rising and setting of the Sun and the waxing and waning of the Moon are the most basic and important cycles for marking time. We are all obedient to these cycles, no matter what culture or creature. Solstice points mark larger arcs of time. On winter solstice, daylight is the shortest; the Sun has the lowest arc. Summer solstice is the opposite. This is the natural calendar. And for our people, the New Year occurs at the annual green corn ceremony. This is a time of renewal and forgiveness. I always look forward to this time. Even if I am not able to make it home; I mark the event. We all need marking points and places for renewal, to begin again in a fresh manner. Doing so together can make the event even more powerful, special.
According to the European-based Gregorian calendar, the New Year begins on January 1st, and most of us mark this as a time for new beginnings, a time for a new start. I figure I might as well observe two New Year events, which makes for double new beginnings.
January first is a time of resolutions. The most popular are those to lose weight, quit smoking, or to win the lottery. I imagine that most of us make the same resolutions every year. I find that it’s easier to judge what others need to do to improve their lives. I can easily make resolutions for others. For instance, it’s absolutely clear to me that _____ on the National Council is full of _____ and should resolve not to run for political office, rather stay home and take care of _____. Or, why doesn’t _____ leave______ for all his partying around. Everyone knows he’s seeing _________on the side. She should resolve to lose the sucker. We also know that ______is playing_____for a fool. _____ should resolve to_______. And why is ______so worried about the enrollment of citizens who also have African blood when they have grandparents who have African blood, and they’ve done everything they can to hide it and deny it, even changing tribal records? _____should resolve to not hate themselves or anyone else based on skin color.
And so on, you can fill in the blanks. I could make a form here, with various resolutions, and they could be pasted to a card and sent to ______. Yeah, sure….it doesn’t work that way and it never will. Criticizing and pointing fingers at others doesn’t change behavior. It usually adds to the mess. Yet, we often think these things and even speak them to our own little constituents and wonder why nothing changes. Thoughts are things and are propelled as soon as they’re thought. Some are directed, and some are misty sticky wreaths. And you can be sure that every thought you send out returns to stick to the owner and maker. Scary, huh? We become what we think, for better or worse. It’s wiser to tend to our own business, and send out thoughts to “lift each other up”. And more than thoughts, but back them with actions that will truly “lift each other up”. If I consider Mvskokean philosophy, “lifting each other up” is a cornerstone.
Every time I hear the phrase I am always taken back to the voices and ways of thinking and acting of the wisest of us. I used drive my Aunt Lois Harjo Ball around to see people and that’s how I learned. We often landed at George and Stella Coser’s warm house in Okmulgee. It was there that I probably first heard the phrase, “to lift each other up”. I noted that my spirit was always lifted up in their home. I also came away knowing that genealogy is a Mvskoke science, and that there is beautiful and ever growing mystery to the world. There is an amazing depth to our tribal philosophy. When I think of a truly Mvskoke University I think it must be in the same kind of place and manner as what I experienced in the Coser’s and in other traditional homes like theirs. I often hear that same phrase from George Coser, Jr. when I call him by phone or visit. And I am always “lifted up” when we speak. Mvto.
I was reminded once again of this powerful phrase when I called up my friend Ella Coleman who moved back to Seminole, Oklahoma with her husband Al. We knew each other when she lived in Albuquerque. She’s one of those people whose spirit naturally lifts everyone up who’s around her. She reported that a conference of fvscate gathered in her backyard. She’d never seen so many in one place. Her mother reminded her that a redbird is said to represent good-luck to our people. To see so many redbirds assembled in one place would uplift any of us. Her husband Al, who’s a fine photographer, wanted to photograph the event, but also didn’t want to scare the birds away, so he tried from inside, but the screen got in the way. My imagination sees that gathering quite well from Ella’s description, and I like thinking of them all hanging out in Ella and Al’s backyard. The redbird society found the right place to go, a place to where they would feel lifted up.
Ella reminded me of the phrase when she told how her relatives were talking over a holiday meal about how people used to act “to lift each other up”. They’d go see people in the hospital, or go help each other with repairs, take over dishes of food, or if going hunting shared what they had brought back. Some people still do this, but less and less so. We all seem further apart from each other. To do so, she said, was so that we “lifted each other up”. When she used that phrase it felt as true as it has always felt since the first time I heard it.
Ella has a grand-nephew Michael and every time I hear a new story about him I think of those traditional people and can see that new ones are being born, though these times are different. She said that Michael has made a corner of the house a place he goes to, on his own, when he thinks bad thoughts. He’s only four-years-old, and wiser than most of us. I figured I’d better designate a corner in my house. And we might want to designate a corner, or several in the tribal complex. We’d be better off for it.
Mvto Ella, Al and Michael.
So, in honor of those who truly know and carry forth the Mvskoke ways, why not make a New Year’s resolution for the nation, to lift each other up? Something then might truly change, and we might all be lifted up, together.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Trees and New Beginnings
Last week headed over to the Big Island, or rather, dragged. I was pretty sick with some viral thing I brought back with me to Hawaii. I'd cough violently at sleep and on waking, and less so other times. During the day I could put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the beauty. The journey was marked by the wisdom of trees. Two were companions in the rainforest bordering Kilauea crater. They called me over twice. Another was a banyan in Hilo (not this one) at dusk. I found it after walking over a curved bridge lined with candles scented with lavendar. I kept looking for a bridal party. No one around, but quiet, and the banyan tree.
May we learn more from trees this next year, than from the television.
Have a good one.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Muscogee Nation News Column for December Joy Harjo
Hensci, We’ve finally landed in winter after a long summer and fall. Here on the Rio Grande flyway geese and cranes have been passing over. Only thing is they aren’t always headed in the right direction. I’ve watched several layered vees of birds head south, then turn back north. Others fly east or west in a confused manner. Strange. I never saw this growing up in Oklahoma. In the fall, birds flew south. In the spring; they returned. Since the hard freeze of the last few weeks they are definitely and quickly flying south. No question. At least the Sun still comes up from the East and sees us through until nightfall, and returns again. A mvto, or thank you for the Sun.
We just survived Thanksgiving. Most people don’t know that it’s a holiday based on a fabricated story of a sit down dinner with Pilgrims (a mispronunciation of the word “pillager”) and Indians. The Pilgrims weren’t too friendly, were rather grim, not the sort to hang out and eat with Indians. The holiday was an invention fostered by the writer of the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, Sarah Josepha Hale. Maybe the poem should have been, “Mary Had a Little Turkey”. Did her family own a turkey farm? Of course, most of us enjoy any kind of excuse for a day off, for eating lots of good food with family and friends, and for some (not me) an afternoon of football games. And it’s always good to take time to express gratitude, and even better to make it a habit every morning before getting up, or before sleep. I take issue with the compromised premise, and with all of those people dressing up as fake Indians. For most of the world, turkey feathers in the hair and buckskin, equals Indian.
Once years back in a class we studied images of Indians. One of the students took sheets of paper and markers to a preschool class in Boulder. She asked the children to draw an Indian. They all drew one of two images: a warrior on horseback brandishing bloody tomahawks, or delicate princesses, most of them on horseback. They weren’t human beings, rather symbols, and the children had already internalized them.
When my daughter was three, just before she went into Head Start, we went to sign her up at a preschool in Iowa City, (where I was going to graduate school). The children surrounded us and danced around doing that Hollywood war whoop, you know the one. Their teacher was embarrassed. I was amazed that children that young had already taken in that false image that had nothing to do with being Indian, or Mvskoke, or Acoma, my daughter’s other tribal affiliation.
We’re still mostly portrayed in those flat images in art, literature, movies, and not just by non-Indians or three-year-olds. The worst culprits are often our own people. Of course, we do have warriors on horseback, and I saw a little tomahawk brandishing in my early days, and most of our princesses aren’t so delicate. They like to eat.
A few years ago I carried a fussy grandson, accompanied by his older sister for a stroll around the Santa Fe plaza, while their parents (and the rest of the diners) finished dinner in peace. Desiray, who is Mvskoke, Acoma, Navajo and most decidedly “Indian looking” paused in front of a Plains headdress displayed in an Indian jewelry shop for tourists. “Look Nana”, she said. “Indians.”
Identity is a complex question. How do we see and define ourselves and how do others define us? What do governments have to say about it and what does the wisdom beyond the foolishness of small-mindedness have to say about it? I understand there are many in the tribe who believe tribal membership should be made up of only full-bloods. Yet many of these same people sing hymns and espouse a religion that isn’t Mvskoke in origin. There’s a contradiction here. I have no issue with people talking with or worshipping God in whatever manner or form. Diversity in form describes the natural world. And I’m convinced we all carry a part of the vision. No one person or culture carries the whole story.
What I take issue with is the rigidity and hurtfulness of an exclusionary vision. Such a plan to limit tribal membership, is not only racist, it’s genocidal. It’s what the makers of the Dawes Act had in mind in the first place, like a sustained release genocide pill. And many have bought into it. Self-righteousness stinks, no matter how it’s dressed.
Behind this are some real issues and concerns about what it means to be a real Mvskoke person, about our responsibilities, and about having some say in the shape of the future of our nation. Who is taking care of the spiritual, mythical and familial center? Who is carrying forth the stories, the songs and making new ones to fit the needs of the time? Many of those who know are dying off.
Our experiences have been different and race figures greatly into how one moves about the present world. Consider that we didn’t define ourselves by race before the coming of the Europeans. We must remember where we came from as a nation, and have a shining idea of our direction. A fearful approach doesn’t work, in governments, societies or our individual lives. We bring about what we fear as surely as we bring about what we love. Both carry the same charge. Let’s try some common sense and compassion. We need to be open to hearing each other.
I’ve talked to many of our tribal members in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the country who have expressed concern that their children and grandchildren are being denied a place in the family, our Mvskoke Nation. Is this who we want to be, a people who throw their children away? If we look with the mind of the vastness and complexity of the viewpoint of the stars, then we will see and know wisely.
As I write this I am on a late flight to Albuquerque. We were delayed from Tulsa missed the connecting plane in the Dallas Fort Worth. Alfred Berryhill, our second chief was also on the same delayed flights so we had plenty of opportunity to visit. I was impressed by his cultural knowledge and his love of our Mvskoke language. Ask him sometime about how to get from “aerodynamics” to “arrow dynamics”. Mostly we talked the need for a refreshing vision for the people. We agreed we need to see ourselves as who we are, not in that false mirror of misrepresentation that has been forced on us. When the Europeans first arrived they were amazed by the way we lived, by our democracy, our lack of a need for prisons, for our social systems, our finely crafted homes. In a relatively short time we have forgotten our true legacy as Mvskoke people. It’s still here, within us.
Finally, a few closing words from poet Louis Littlecoon Oliver who always had a wise word or two, and a sense of humor. He was a full-blood, born of Koweta Town, Raccoon Clan. In his book, The Horned Snake, he says: “I asked the oldest of my old ones what his opinions were of the white man’s supertechnology: his flight to the moon, his atomic weapons, his present status in the Middle East. He stared into the fire for a moment, then looked up at me with a faint smile and said: ‘We look upon the white man’s world of wonders as trivia—and short-lived.’ “
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
An Appeal for Paula Gunn Allen
The Paula Gunn Allen Fund has just been established to provide financial assistance to Paula, whose car, double-wide trailer, clothes, appliances, books, and papers burned in a fire in mid-October.
Evidently, some oily rags, stored in a shed on her newly built deck, ignited and burned her house and car. Paula, who was in the house when the fire started, suffered smoke inhalation and was briefly hospitalized after the fire. Two weeks later, her landlady found Paula unconscious on the floor of her temporary apartment. Hospitalized again, Paula was in a coma for at least six days and in the hospital for two weeks. Since returning to her apartment, she has responded well to physical and lung therapy and her spirits are better than they have been in some time. As of today, she can walk ten steps without a cane.
This has been a hard year for Paula. Just before the fire, she had successfully completed radiation therapy for lung cancer, which doctors found in its early stages. The treatment, however, debilitated her.
Paula has given us all so much over the years through her creative and scholarly writing and her direction of the 1977 NEH-MLA Summer Seminar in Native American Literature. Your donation can help her rebuild her life.
Send your donation to The Paula Gunn Allen Fund, Account No. 0129540739, Bank of America, 228 North Main Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437. (Include "The," which is part of the fund's legal name). The donation is not tax deductible.
Paula also needs copies of books containing her essays or poems because hers burned in the fire. Fortunately, she had deposited most of her papers in the library of the University of Oregon several years before the fire.
Receiving notes and cards from her Native literature colleagues will lighten her spirit. Mail can reach her at 5601/2 North McPherson Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437. She will probably be at this address for at least the next six weeks, until her lot is cleared of debris and a different trailer is placed there.
If you have questions, feel free to contact me. Patricia Smith and others are planning some events to help raise funds. I will inform you about these as plans are finalized.
For health reasons, I am not coming to MLA this year. Happy holidays.
A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff
Professor Emerita of English
University of Illinois at Chicago
Home Address: 300 Forest Avenue Oak Park, IL 60302-2012
Home phone: 708-848-9292; Home fax:708-848-9308
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Creative Writing, IAIA
83 Avan Nu Po Road.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87508
Monday, December 25, 2006
PE-RE-HEM or SILENT NIGHT
(in Mvkoke (Creek)) Thanks Eli Grayson for your email with this standard.
Pe-re-hem Tv-lo fvn Silent night, holy night
O-mvl-kv Fek-hon-ne All is calm, all is bright
O’mvl-kv Hv-ya-ya-kes Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Es-tu-cet Hv-svt-ke-tv Holy infant so tender and mild
Hvl-we No-cet O-mes Sleep in heavenly peace
Hvl-we No-cet O-mes Sleep in heavenly peace
Pe-re-hem Tv-lo-fvn Silent night, holy night
Pu-ca-se Hec-ke-pen Shepards quake at the sight
He-sa-ya-cyn Y-rak-kue-cvks Glories stream from heaven afar
A-le-lu-yv Me-kot Os Heavenly hosts sing alleluia
Klist Pu-ca-set Hec-kes Christ the Savior is born!
Klist Pu-ca-set Hec-kes Christ the Savior is born!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
In Honor of Diane Burns
The news this morning:
"Diane Burns, Poet and Artist, passed on into the spirit world late on
December 22 after a short illness.
Funeral plans are pending.
Diane Burns was born in 1957. Burns 's father is a Chemehuevi and her
mother is an Anishinabe. Her poetry is known for its humor and honesty.
Books by Diane Burns: Riding the One-eyed Ford. Fantastic First Work,
Diane Burns' first published set of poems had, at that time, firmly
established her as one of the up and coming young Native American female
poets of her generation.
Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question?
Diane Burns (Lac Courte Oreilles- Cheemehuevi)
How do you do?
No, I am not Chinese.
No, not Spanish.
No, I am American Indiuh, Native American.
No, not from India.
No, not Apache
No, not Navajo.
No, not Sioux.
No, we are not extinct.
So thats where you got those high cheekbones.
Your great grandmother, huh?
An Indian Princess, huh?
Hair down to there?
Let me guess. Cherokee?
Oh, so youve had an Indian friend?
Oh, so youve had an Indian lover?
Oh, so youve had an Indian servant?
Yeah, it was awful what you guys did to us.
Its real decent of you to apologize.
No, I dont know where you can get peyote.
No, I dont know where you can get Navajo rugs real cheap.
No, I didnt make this. I bought it at Bloomingdales.
Thank you. I like your hair too.
I dont know if anyone knows whether or not Cher is really Indian.
No, I didnt make it rain tonight.
Yeah. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
Uh-huh. Yeah. Spirituality. Uh-huh. Mother
Earth. Yeah. Uhhuh. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
No, I didnt major in archery.
Yeah, a lot of us drink too much.
Some of us cant drink enough.
This aint no stoic look.
This is my face.
From:IndigenousNewsNetwork@topica.com digest, issue 864
My poem/song, the Real Revolution is Love features Diane, from a visit we made together to Nicaragua in the mid eighties. I'll never forget flying down to Nicaragua to take part in the Ruben Dario Poetry Festival. Poets came in from all over the Americas. We were ushered through customs, taken to our rooms, then to the coffeehouse where the festivities had started with readings to celebrate this huge gathering on behalf of poetry and a revolution of truth, of love. I'll never forget how excited I was as we approached the coffeehouse, to see that poetry here is beloved and revered art, and I will never forget my surprise as the door opened and there was Diane Burns, far from New York City or Wisconsin, letting us in. I said something about the surprise of seeing her there as the gatekeeper (it was witty) and we laughed.
It was at that conference that she and _______ were married by Ernesto Cardinale, even though both were already married to other people. I missed that part. Had to leave early.
I may have seen her once more, in Oklahoma for the huge poetry gathering in 1992. I remember being concerned. I've always looked for more poetry from her. Her voice was honest, funny and her poetry made echoes throughout the native literary community.
We will miss her.
May your spirit fly free from hurt, from pain.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Blogger is working, FINALLY
Thursday morning. Sick for a week. It's breaking through.
Just got asked to reprint a quote someone wrote down from a recent performance/talk.
I barely recall saying it. It was my wise-self talking. I usually hand such events over to my wise self.
Sometimes it's my wise-ass self who steps in.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
A Review of Apocalypto by Tiahui OR, Why We Need to Make Our Own Movies
Forwarded to me from Jack Forbes
UCTP Taino News Moderator's note: The following review was forwarded
from our indigenous Mexica brother Xochipilli (Anuar):
How are you brothers and sisters, I hope to find all of well and
I write this letter concerning my review of the new Mel Gibson
movie "Apocalypto". I know a lot of us were excited when we heard
about the making of the movie which was going to be available for the
I have received a copy of the script before hand and the story line
was based on murder, rape, disease, slavery and the all famous mass
human sacrifice. But I had no clue to what extent until I saw the
movie, I told myself I wouldn't see it but some of my brothers and
sisters wanted to see It and I didn't want to be "left out"
Now the review.
The story line of the movie is about rural Mayan tribe who are
invaded by another bigger Mayan tribe from the Mayan metropolis.
sorry If I'm not clear on details like the name of the people and the
places but I looked away a lot of times. One of the main stars that I
remembered was one of the members of the small community, his name
was "Jaguar Paw".
So to put it all quickly the big city Mayans invade the rural Mayan
community in search of captives. Throughout the scene, the city
Mayans do everything from the burning of the village, to the killing
of innocent men and women who refused to surrender, to the burning of
men and women thrown into a open fire, to the raping and torture of
So after all the remaining men were captured and tied-up the massacre
was over. All that remained were the burning huts and the bloody
corpse of men and women with their abandoned children crying at their
side. The men are taken tied by there hands and their necks tied on a
bamboo tress. At some point they pass through another village near by
were the inhabitants of this village were devastated by a disease,
another scene of bloody corpse lying around with this one Mayan child
infected with the disease cries for help but the ruthless, brutal
Mayan warriors push her away. And as they push the little girl away,
she reveals a prophesy of blah, blah, blah and beware.
They walk and walk while being tormented physically and
psychologically by the "superior" big city Mayan warriors.
Finally they reach the Mayan metropolis, I'm not sure which Mayan
city was being represented here but my guess was Tikal. All you see
throughout the city is blood, everywhere, animals slaughtered left to
right, seriously people covered blood eating bloody meat of animals.
The captives are then sold as slaves to what looked like merchants
and political leaders the ones who weren't sold as slaves received
the fate of being sacrificed at the top of the Pyramid.
Jaguar Paw was there along with them. So as they walk towards the
pyramid sacrifices were already being performed, heads and bodies
rolling down the blood covered steps of the pyramids, everything
covered in blood. There were wooden stakes in front of the pyramid
which carried the heads of hundreds of sacrificed victims.
Once the captives reach the pyramid top they are sacrificed one by
one by a Mayan priest covered in blood, representatives sit behind
him applauding, families with their children along with the whole
community cheer as the priest takes his small obsidian knife stabs
the victum in the chest and in one second rips out his heart then
with the same obsidian knife he rips the captive's head off and
throws it down the stairs then kicks the body down the stairs while
the people cheer and applaud. The body rolls down the stairs until it
reaches the bottom where it falls on top of a mass pile of bloody
mutilated bodies at the side of the pyramid.
Jaguar paw was the next to be sacrificed. But according to the little
girls prophecy or omen, the day would turn into night,, and that's
what happened when there was a eclipse and it was a sign of
salvation, "kulkulkan was pleased with all the blood we fed him" the
Jaguar paw's life is spared and so are the remaining of the captives.
The captives were then taken near a corn field where they were
granted freedom under one condition they must run towards a corn
field that was probably a hundred yards in length. At the corn field
a Mayan armed warrior stood. So two captives were released two by two
and as they ran for their lives, the warriors began shooting arrows
and spears and stones as more of a form of entertainment and
challenge. So if the captives didn't get killed with the spears,
arrows or stones, that one Mayan warrior at the end with end their
fate by clubbing them to death.
Jaguar Paw was next and he manages to escape the fatal arrows and
spears, and manages to kill the armed warrior, and runs for his life.
So the rest of the warriors go after him and the rest of the movie is
an ongoing chase to capture Jaguar Paw. At some point while jaguar
paw is running through this corn field he trips and ends up falling
into a mass grave of rotting, mutilated bodies of murdered Mayan
captives, of which appear to be hundreds or thousands of them.
Jaguar paw runs and runs, and during the chase the warriors are
attacked by both a jaguar and serpent and they kill the two sacred
animals, which was part of the little girls omen.
At the end jaguar paw manages to kill most of the warriors. Only two
warriors remained, chasing him until they suddenly froze along with
jaguar paw. Staring at the ocean, they saw the coming of the
conquistador ships, crosses and all.
And the movie ends with Jaguar Paw getting back with his wife and
child and the arrival of the ships on the coast.
Now, what I've written here is the whole movies, nothing but murder,
torture, human sacrifice, blood and more blood. This movie was
absolutely horrifying and disgusting to a point where I froze with
rage inside my head.
So pretty much this is how the movie flows, and for myself and others
with knowledge of our true history I could easily point out these
horrifying acts committed by Mayans towards other Mayans in the movie
were truly acts of terrorism and genocide. While these things did
happen the truth is the atrocities were really committed by hands of
the European invaders.
This movie is a racist bomb dropped on our great Mayan grandfathers
and grandmothers, Mexican and all other indigenous communities. It is
outrageous to EXPRESS THAT WE WERE REPSONSIBLE FOR OUR PEOPLE'S
GENOCIDE AND THAT RAPE, TORTURE, DIESEASE, MURDER, MUTALATION, MASS
BURNING MASS BURIAL, AND MASS SACRIFICE WAS ALREADY BEING COMMITED
BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF THE EUROPEAN INVADERS.
This movie is blaming our ancestors for the genocide and suffering of
their people, thus covering up and washing the hands of the European
invaders who actually committed these horrifying crimes, and it also
justifies it. It is an attack on us by a catholic fanatic freak named
Mel Gibson and the Catholic Church that backs him up. It is
So my review - two middle fingers in the air!
So to all you brothers and sisters please avoid seeing this movie -
avoid letting your families and especially your children from seeing
it. I tell you now before being exposed to this garbage.
Thank you for reading I just needed to express my shame and
disappointment for watching this movie and my rage against it.
I must remain positive and move on forward.
Please feel free to add anything else,
Monday, December 04, 2006
Muscogee Nation News November 2006 Column
On the last fall day, according to the weather not the calendar, I’d been inside working at my desk: the kitchen table. My spirit kept urging me outside. I kept working. Strange, a black cloud of a thought struck from apparently nowhere. See, my spirit told me, I told you to leave the house and go outside. I pulled on my jacket and went out to the early evening. The sun was brushing the tops of the red and yellow trees. I walked and walked. I let go of thinking and felt the earth. Down the way I visited a couple of young ponies. They asked me to pick some apples for them on a tree across from their stalls. We all had to stretch over the electric fence to share. We visited a bit. When I went back I was renewed; I cleaned the house out.
I began to consider the source of the thought that suddenly appeared, like a fast, hard storm. Some things emerge from within, from an accumulation of doubts or fears. Some of the accumulation comes from family, ancestral actions or memory. My brothers have a tendency toward the blues, like me. I’ve learned it’s easier to acknowledge, sing about it and let it go. I used to fight or be sunk.
One of my recurring dreams I traced to an event that happened a century and a half ago to a Mvskokee relative. The event was quite charged which was why, I figured, it stayed around for awhile. We all carry these memories within us. Some are from just yesterday, some from our relatives. Often we are influenced by someone else’s positive or negative intentions. Sometimes they are deliberate, sometimes we just happen to walk through someone’s path.
One morning I was in a spin cycling class in a gym. I’d had a good workout. (I’m convinced that walking on the earth, working out has the effect of spinning off some of the junk build up of too much thinking.) We were cooling down. I suddenly wanted a doughnut. Now I don’t usually eat doughnuts because if I do then I don’t want just one. There’s something incredible (and addicting) about that particular concoction of fat, flour and sugar. So I questioned the thought. Where did it come from? I had no thought of doughnuts. I then saw the source of the thought. It was the man next to me. He was heading out to buy a doughnut after class. This small revelation had quite an effect. I began to question the source of my thoughts. And I began to pay attention to what I was putting out into the world. It’s an ongoing process.
Our Mvskoke tribe could be considered a thinking and dreaming person of sorts. How are we thinking of ourselves? How do we go forth in the world?
Another question has come up recently. In my class we have been reading the work of a Yaqui deer singer and writer, Felipe Molina. In an interview he talks of “Yaqui-ness”. I began to question what makes “Mvskoke-ness”. Your thoughts? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll report the responses.
I heard from tribal member Tony Fields. He used to work at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. I hadn’t seen him around lately. He’s now in Washington D.C. because his wife got a job at NMAI, the National Museum of the American Indian. He’s going to be giving a talk in a few weeks on the Trail of Tears at the Holocaust Museum.
Last week as I changed planes in the Dallas Forth Worth Airport I ran into Doug Sapulpa who was on his way to a high school reunion in Sapulpa. We were both a little groggy from early flights, his from Sacramento, mine from Albuquerque. We commiserated for awhile, over coffee and tea. His brother Owen was the last member of his family I’d seen in this airport. I had been pounding a stamp machine that had taken my last change when I looked over and there was Owen who I’ve always admired for his self-possession. Doug and I laughed about it. There’s always someone watching, I reminded myself after that embarrassment. Self-possession is worth more than the cost of a stamp, and the hassle of not getting a bill in on time because you don’t have a stamp. Mvto, Doug for the visit that morning. It made my trip flow smoother.
And finally, Mvskoke citizen Bob Hicks is featured on the cover and with an interview on an online Renaissance Indian Magazine, at www.renaissanceindian.com.
Bob Hicks was born in a barn in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, on Feb. 5, 1934. His mother, Ella Scott, and his father, Robert Hicks, were married, Bob says, “in an Indian way.” He left Oklahoma in 1979 for Hollywoodland and was in the film industry for many years. He was often the only Indian, and almost always the only Creek. He saw the industry shift from painting white people to act Indian roles, to the employment of real Indians. He made a number of contributions to the field, one as a founder of the organization First Americans in the Arts, which produces an annual awards show. Bob has moved back home to Oklahoma.
I’ll close with an excerpt, (printed with permission of Harrison Lowe, editor and founder of the magazine, and another pioneering Indian [Navajo] in Hollywoodland):
“ ‘Everybody was suffering, so I thought this was how the world was,” Bob says. “So for me, it was normal. My older brothers and my dad were lucky to go out and make $3 a day. They worked on farms. He would plow and plant fields. We also picked cotton. When I was seven or eight years old, my momma made me a bag that I could drag along and put the cotton in. But I was not a good cotton picker.”
Bob fell in love with movies in 1939. It was a good year for motion pictures; “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Some Like It Hot” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” were all released that year. But five-year-old Bob’s tastes ran more toward westerns - movies like “Stagecoach,” “Riders of the Sage” and “Destry Rides Again,” which were also released that year.
“On Saturdays, we’d load up the wagon and go into Okemah,” he recalls. “It was a town of only 2,000 people, but it had two movie theaters: The Jewel and The Crystal. The Crystal played love stories, which I didn’t care for. But The Jewel played westerns, and I loved westerns.”
Back then movies were only a dime.
Bob’s dad shared his love for movies, and they often went together to The Jewel: his dad sitting in the back row near the aisle, and Bob planted in the front row with his friends, cheering for the cowboys and the cavalry as they slaughtered the Indians.
“When I was a kid,” Bob says, “I didn’t have any role models in the movies who I could look up to and say, ‘I want to be like that.’ The Indians were always portrayed as the bad guys, so I rooted for the cowboys. I was brainwashed. That kind of thing can leave a kid confused.”
Many years later, Bob decided to do something about it.”
Mvto, Bob, for all your hard work, your vision. You have mentored and helped many native actors, writers and performers, and have been a virtual one-man Indian center for many of us who landed there.
October 27, 2006 Albuquerque Joy Harjo
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I'll be back on soon. In the middle of stuff. Also have podcasts coming up. New music.
Thanks for all your comments. Nice to hear from you John-Carlos. What's your website address so I can alert everyone to your amazing gifts?
A note regarding my brother: he is the most generous person and will give anyone anything he has--he wants my mother to have the chandelier. I imagine that it represents a gift of light, of people laughing and having plenty to eat at the table beneath the chandelier. And the organs, lots of music to go with the light and laughter.
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