Joy Harjo posts reports here on her trips and other happenings.
This month has been a month heavy with deaths, transformations, made light with a few births. Two mentors have moved on from this earth. The first to leave was Louis Ballard, the Quapaw and Cherokee world-class composer from northeastern Oklahoma.
When I arrived at the Institute of American Indian Arts for high school as a teenager, Ballard was assigned as my advisor. We were both from Oklahoma; that was our starting place. When I needed a place of refuge from my many battles, I would wander up the sidewalk, past Academics to his music studio. We didn’t talk music. I had given it up a few years before, had walked out of a band room because the band teacher refused to allow me to play sax, because I was a girl. And I had stopped singing because I was forbidden to sing. I was drawn to Louis Ballard by his immense kindness; he was someone who knew how to listen, even when words weren’t necessarily spoken. On his walls were large, beautiful images of Indian ballerinas, including Maria Tallchief, who was also from Oklahoma, he told me. He had composed music for her. I saw that he was a man of achievement. And, like many others, I was inspired by the music that came from his studio, by the native choir he fostered for which he arranged traditional music. I still know those songs.
It was only years later that I became aware of his immense contributions to the world of music, of his many orchestral compositions that always referred back with great dignity to the roots of our indigenous music. He managed to carry a great respect and always dignity for the gifts of our nations, though he came up through a time of shame of identity, like many in my parent’s generation.
In my late thirties I turned back toward a music that had been denied me. And this restarted my relationship with Louis Ballard. He was always helpful. His knowledge was coherent and wide-ranging. And he shared. He was a fierce proponent of what our cultures have to offer.
I called Louis before Christmas, a few months ago. We talked for over an hour, about family, about our music endeavors, about the organization: First Nation Composers Initiative (for which we were founding members), mostly about what matters. He encouraged me. As we visited and I listened to his manner of speaking I realized how lonely I was for these mothers, fathers, grandparents of our old ways. For though Ballard lived in New Mexico, his spirit was rooted in the wisdom found at the center of those tribal lands in Oklahoma. His memory was profound and alert. He even remembered my Sonic Drive-In order from a visit with him there twenty years ago!
This is how I know Louis. He was an exemplary mentor, and will remain so, because the spirit lives long past the body or time. He reminds me to be dignified, coherent in what I say and how I listen. And to be exact in my art, in anything I give back to the world. I will always hear his voice as he spoke on behalf of our peoples, and of course, his music. He was all of this, and more. Mvto.
And I need to mention an important mentor who suddenly left us this week: the poet Gene Frumkin. He was a poetry professor at the University of New Mexico who, along with poetry writing and English, taught kindness and concern. He nurtured his students; he believed in us. He encouraged us to enter poems in contests and to publish in small magazines, and once drove our poetry workshop up to a literary conference in Colorado Springs for the weekend. That act of commitment on his part sealed it: we were real poets! In the end what we will carry away from this place are memories, are the stories, songs, actions and words we share with each other. We certainly won’t be carrying away our name-brand cars, trucks, electronics, stuff or any of our money or our CDIB cards.
Mvto Gene Frumkin. I write to acknowledge him, and to remind everyone to go visit those who helped you along the way. My wise, inner companion kept nudging me to visit Gene, this man who nurtured the spirit of a young and conflicted poet back so many years ago. I was too busy.
We need to make it a practice to acknowledge and thank all of those who help us along our journey. Every gift we have is deserving of thankfulness: food, clothing, shelter, land, inspiration, friendship, vehicles, computers, movies, medicines, electronics, our bodies, planets, suns, and all of those who provide the gifts. We are dependent on the sacrifices of plants, animals, on various powers that move about, above or within the earth. We used to be much more aware of the process of life, and remembered not just how to speak with these, but that we had and have a crucial relationship to and with plants, animals and the rest of consciousness, to the Creator of all this. Some still acknowledge that relationship. Humans aren’t the only carriers of consciousness, of plans, of life.
Consider this: the plant we call “Corn” or “Vce “, has consciousness, and decided to colonize human beings so that it would continue to grow, asserts Michael Pollen in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals. He proves it in his book as he shows the migration route of corn, and shows how corn and corn products have come to be in almost every meal that is eaten in this country. How did we become so human-centric to believe that humans are the only ones with consciousness? Consciousness isn’t linear. All life carries consciousness. All life responds to thankfulness. With a perspective beyond books, beyond theologies, beyond politics, beyond small-mindedness; we will remember.
Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember the moon; remember the dark.
Remember your birth, how you were given breath.
You were given laughter; you were given crying.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth: we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them;
listen to them. They are alive.
Remember the winds. Remember their voices. They know the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
It's late and I'm in the lobby of the Colgate Inn, in Hamilton, NY. (Wireless doesn't work in the location of my room.) Beautiful clear night out and the moon is all over the sky. Below zero temperatures. I'ld love to see the northern lights and wonder if they wander down this way. I saw them in Lawrence, Kansas years ago at a gathering at Luci Tapahanso's. It was her birthday. so it was in November. And Rebekah Presson was there, and she was at the dinner tonight at an inn at the edge of Hamilton, NY. I started the morning in Albuquerque. The Sun and Moon were in near opposition this morning as I was driven to the airport. After the flight to Syracuse, with a change of planes in Chicago, and an hour drive to Hamilton, I wasn't certain that I'd be up for dinner. What a surprise, sort of like arriving at rehearsal last night outside of Santa Fe, already past my second, third and fourth wind and wondering how I was going to find it, where it was going to come from.... and then we started playing music and I forgot about being exhausted. That's how it was when the wonderful poet Peter Balakian picked me up for dinner, and Rebecca and Dewey were there, and many other wonderful people. I forgot about being exhausted. I have photos, which I'll add tomorrow (along with the promised photo of the Lobo Football locker room.)
Here's a song to close out the day in which I was carried by the sky to here:
I failed a little
Dip the wound in water
Wrap it in a redbird’s song
Climb into the canoe
And paddle out from the weeping
Let the failing fail
Let the stars bear trouble
Let the canoe carry
What we cannot bury.
c Joy Harjo 2006
Thanks Angela Mooney D'Arcy for this announcement:
Oldest Urban Native American Community Center in the Nation Under
"Save the Legacy" Fundraiser Events Scheduled to Save the Intertribal
Oakland, California - The Intertribal Friendship House (IFH), which
is recognized as the oldest Urban Native American Community Center in
the nation, is under threat of being lost forever. On Friday, March
23 the IFH will be placed on the Alameda County auction block due to
unpaid taxes if necessary funds are not raised. Community members are
taking action to raise $30,000 to save the center and preserve the
legacy of this cultural and historical monument.
It has also served as the meeting place and organizing center for
American Indian activism of the 1960s and '70s including the
occupation of Alcatraz, the initiation of the Long Walk, and the
creation of the AIM for freedom Survival School, among many other
events and actions that had far-reaching effects nationally, many of
which continue today.
For over fifty years the IFH continues to serve as the heart of the
Bay Area Indian Community. It was established in 1955 to respond to
the needs of American Indian people of many tribes who had migrated
into the area through the Federal relocation program. For Urban
Native Peoples IFH has served as the Urban Reservation and Homeland.
In many cases it is one of the few places that keeps them connected
to their culture and traditions through pow wow dance, drumming,
beading classes, and the many social gatherings, cultural events, and
ceremonies that are held there.
"The Intertribal Friendship House is more than an organization. It is
the heart of a vibrant tribal community." said Wilma Mankiller,
former Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation. "When we returned to our
Oklahoma homelands twenty years later, we took incredible memories of
the many people in the Bay Area who helped shape our values and
Intertribal Friendship House (IFH) sprang up out of the need for
relocated Indians to congregate together, to help each other survive
and to forge what became the Urban Indian Community in the San
Francisco Bay Area. IFH became the model that other Indian Centers
with a specific focus grew out of and replicated.
"Save the Legacy"
Calendar of Events
7:00 PM-9:00 PM Film Screening:
Shell Mound, Spider Kid, and Exterminate Them! The California Story
W/ Special Guests Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Lee Brightman of the
American Indian Movement. Shell Mound Director Andres Cidiel and
Spider Kid Director Cha-Tah Gould will also be present.
Intertribal Friendship House
523 International Blvd.
$8 - $10
All ages event!
7:00 PM-2:00 AM "Save the Legacy" Benefit Show
All Nations Drummers, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Good Shield, Colored
Ink, Ise Lyfe, Brown Buffalo Project, Entre Musicos, E-legal MC,
Ariel Lucky, DJ Oye, DJ Agana, DJ Fuse and Sake-1. Cafe' Axe'
1525 Webster St.
$10-15 Sliding scale
All ages event!
No Drugs or Alcohol Allowed
4:00 PM –10:00 PM "Save the Legacy" Benefit Concert
Aztlan Underground, Blackfire, 7th Generation Rise, One Struggle,
Chest full of Arrows and other very special guests!
Aztlan Underground is a fusion band from Los Angeles. Since the early
1990s, Aztlan Underground has played Rapcore. Indigenous drums,
flutes, and rattles are commonplace in its musical compositions.
Blackfire a Native American (Dine') group comprised of two brothers
and their sister. Their style is high-energy and comprises
traditional Native American, Punk-Rock and Alter-Native with strong
sociopolitical messages about government oppression, relocation of
indigenous people, eco-cide, genocide, domestic violence and human
rights. They strongly advocate for the Protection of Sacred sites and
the respect of all cultures.
Good Shield is an indigenous artist of Oglala lakota and Yoeme
heritage. He is lead singer and songwriter for Indigenous Soul band,
7th GENERATION RISE out of Humboldt County, CA. Good Shields music
writing styles consists of Folk, Funk, Rock, etc set to culturally
and politically charged lyrics.
One Struggle an eight piece band which infuses reggae, soul and South
American rhythms with a blend of conscious vocals, spoken word,
traditional Native songs and hip-hop sure to get your booty shaking.
Eastside Cultural Center
2277 International Blvd @ 23rd Avenue,
$10-15 Sliding scale
All ages event!
No Drugs or Alcohol Allowed