Archives for posts with tag: Native American

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by Ken Hartke

It rises like a ziggurat in the desert.
Torn by the wind.
Shattered by the elements.
Stabbed by blades of ice.
Blasted by the heat
of countless searing summers.
Hammered by lightning and
shook by roaring blasts of thunder.
The mythic monster’s head lolls
in its everlasting giant’s sleep.
The Diné’s old legend cast in stone.
Climb up. Go higher.
The far horizon unfolds
to reveal range after range of
fire-formed hills — blackened,
broken, and brittle in the sun.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Cabezon Peak, a volcanic plug, is a landmark of Navajo ancestral lands. It represents a slain giant’s head (Ye’i-tsoh) in their mythology. It is part of the Mount Taylor volcanic field and rises 2,000 feet over the desert in New Mexico.

Photos by the author. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ken Hartke is a writer and photographer from the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, but was originally planted and nourished in the Midwest. His New Mexico images now inspire much of his writing. He has contributed work for the Late Orphan Project’s anthology These Winter Months (The Backpack Press), and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He keeps an active web presence on El Malpais,, and other places.

My Wîhowin (name)
by Emily Henry

In the traditions of my people, I share the story of my wîhowin. I am an nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Cree woman). I am an nôsisim (grandchild) of Okawimaw askiy (Mother Earth). I was born on the Ochapowace (one who recites from memory) an Nêhiyaw-Askîhkin (Cree nation) located in Kisiskatchewanisipi (Saskatchewan ‘fast flowing river’), in the country of Canada (Haudenosaunee word for ‘land’ or ‘settlement’). My father’s nêhiyawi (Cree) ancestry runs deeply within my veins; generations and generations of my ayisiyinowak (people) live in what became known as Treaty Four territory. I was born an skīciwinō (treaty) ayisiyinowak. My mother’s father was also from the nêhiyawi ayisiyinowak (Cree people); however, her mother’s ancestry is from the Apitaw-kosisān (Métis – Cree/French people) lineage. They traveled from the Red River to the Apitaw-kosisān Settlement of Marieval, which at one time lay nestled in the hills of the Ka tepwas (Qu’Appelle – it [the river] calls) valley. Ochapowace and Marieval lineage intertwined in the form of my mother and father’s union. My English name is Emily Jane Henry. I am the tepakohpwâw (seventh) child born to my parents; as such, my true wîhowin, my spirit wîhowin was revealed the moment I was formed within my mother’s womb. My spirit wîhowin is Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw (Seven Sacred Fires Woman). My English names originate from two strong honoured lifegivers and family matriarchs: Emily of the nêhiyawi ayisiyinowak and Jane of the Apitaw-kosisān. Henry, my surname, represents resiliency. The mōnīyas (settlers) who could not pronounce our traditional names gave us English wîhowins so that they could pronounce them; in our resiliency, we made them our own. We shall wear our family wîhowin with honour for isko pîsim ta-sâkâsot, maskosiya ta-ohpikihki êkwa sîpîya ta-pimiciwahki (as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow).

My Ancestors, Kākithaw niwākomākanak’s (All my Relations) resiliency helped shaped my destiny, my calling, my wîhowin. When my ayisiyinowak entered into treaty with the Crown, they could not know that it meant that their children would become prisoners in residential school. There was no way to predict that multigenerational impacts that laws created for assimilation would negatively impact generations of our ayisiyinowak’s lives. There was no way to predict that the treaties would lead to the loss of so many traditional wîhowins and that wîhowin’s would be replaced by mōnīyas’ surnames. We continue to carry proof of the broken treaties in the form of our iskonikanîwasinahikan (treaty/status cards), which represent our wîhowin in governmental identification numbers. In spite of our country’s dark past, it is with the honour of our wîhowins and our Ancestors that we, the nêhiyawi ayisiyinowak signed the treaty with sacred intention to commit to the agreements for isko pîsim ta-sâkâsot, maskosiya ta-ohpikihki êkwa sîpîya ta-pimiciwahki.

My wihowin is Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw and I was destined to become a Sacred Firekeeper. I was born from resiliency. My wîhowin inspired my life purpose. Answering to the calling of wîhowin makes me an oskâpêyos (helper) for my ayisiyinowak. I was born to help light the mweciayinânew iskotêw (Eight Fire), the Spiritual Fire, so that our culture remains vibrant in the lives of our ayisiyinowak for isko pîsim ta-sâkâsot, maskosiya ta-ohpikihki êkwa sîpîya ta-pimiciwahki.

Kākithaw niwākomākanak,
Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTO: Here is a picture of my eyes, my ‘worldview,’ when I was 12…

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  ‘Wîhowin’ is inspired by my cultural traditions. Indigenous peoples are people of oral tradition. Our wîhowin tells our story. Our wîhowin also tells the story of our lineage, the story of our tribe, our community and our family. Our wîhowin speaks to how we exemplify the honour and dignity of our clan and the nation that we represent. We are people of relationship and kinship. As we participate in traditional ceremonies, we learn our spiritual connection to all of Creation. Our wîhowin speaks to our place in the great circle of Creation. I am “treaty” person. My Ancestors entered into treaty with the Crown. The words “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow” represent the treaty’s timeline that the Crown said that they would honour the treaties.  Instead the treaties and the laws that they inspired ravaged generations of our people’s lives, as we became wards of the Crown. In effort to keep track of us, the Crown issued us identification numbers; and to them; the numbers became our wîhowin.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Henry is a Cree First Nation Woman from Ochapowace reserve in Canada. She has authored several manuals used for intervention of Aboriginal offenders in federal custody in Canada. She has two Facebook blogs — BalancedLifestylesForKnowledgeSeekers and WalkingTheTalkASacredResponsibility. Both blogs feature traditional teachings designed to create awareness of Indigenous cultural beliefs.

by N. Scott Momaday

I am a feather on the bright sky
I am the blue horse that runs on the plain
I am the fish that rolls, shining, in the water
I am the shadow that follows a child
I am the evening light, the lustre of meadows
I am an eagle playing with the wind
I am a cluster of bright beads
I am the farthest star
I am the cold of dawn
I am the roaring of the rain
I am the glitter of the crust of the snow
I am the long track of the moon in a lake
I am a flame of four colors
I am a deer standing away in the dusk
I am a field of sumac and the pomme blanche
I am an angle of geese in the winter sky
I am the hunger of a young wolf
I am the whole dream of these things
You see, I am alive, I am alive
I stand in good relation to the earth
I stand in good relation to the gods
I stand in good relation to all that is beautiful
I stand in good relation to the daughter of Tsen-tainte
You see, I am alive, I am alive

SOURCE: “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee” appears in N. Scott Momaday‘s collection The Gourd Dancer (Harper, 1976), available at

IMAGE: “Floral Man,” self-portrait (1986) by Frank Big Bear, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  N. Scott Momaday, a Native American author of Kiowa descent, received a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1963. Momaday’s doctoral thesis, The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, was published in 1965. In 1969, his novel House Made of Dawn was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Momaday received the National Medal of Arts in 2007 for his work celebrating and preserving Native American oral and art tradition. He holds 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

by Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life also.
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 poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.

SOURCE: “Remember” appears in Joy Harjo’s collection How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975-2002 (W.W. Norton, 2004), available at

PAINTING: “Meditations on the Night Sky” by Akvarel.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joy Harjo is a Native American poet, musician, and author. Known primarily as a poet, Harjo has also taught at the college level, played alto saxophone with a band called Poetic Justice, edited literary journals, and written screenplays. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Cherokee descent, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. In 1995, Harjo received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. In 2002, Harjo received the PEN Open Book Award for A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales. Harjo joined the faculty of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in January 2013. (Read more at Visit Joy Harjo at

Author Photo: Joy Harjo, Albuquerque, 1975, by LaVerne Harrell Clark, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

by Esther Belin

I like to travel to L.A. by myself
My trips to the crowded smoggy polluted by brown
indigenous and immigrant haze are healing.
I travel from one pollution to another.
Being urban I return to where I came from
My mother
survives in L.A.
Now for over forty years.

I drive to L.A. in the darkness of the day
on the road before CHP
one with the dark
driving my black truck
invisible on my journey home.

The dark roads take me back to my childhood
riding in the camper of daddy’s truck headed home.
My brother, sister and I would be put to sleep in the camper
and sometime in the darkness of the day
daddy would clime into the cab with mom carrying a thermos full of coffee and some Pendleton blankets
And they would pray
before daddy started the truck
for journey mercies.

Often I’d rise from my lullaby sleep and stare into the darkness of the road
the long darkness empty of cars
Glowy from daddy’s headlights and lonesome from Hank Williams’ deep and twangy voice singing of cold nights and cheatin’ hearts.
About an hour from Flagstaff
the sun would greet us
and the harsh light would break the darkness
and we’d be hungry from travel and for being almost home.

I know the darkness of the roads
endless into the glowy path before me
lit by the moon high above and the heat rising from my truck’s engine.
The humming from tires whisper mile after mile
endless alongside roadside of fields shadowy from glow.

I know the darkness of the roads
It swims through my veins
dark like my skin
and silenced like a battered wife.
I know the darkness of the roads
It floods my liver
pollutes my breath
yet I still witness the white dawning.
“Night Travel” appears in Esther Belin’s collection From the Belly of My Beauty (University of Arizona Press, 1999).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A Diné (Navajo) multimedia artist and writer, Esther Belin grew up in Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts and the University of California, Berkeley. Her poetry collection, From the Belly of My Beauty (1999), won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Belin’s parents were relocated from the Southwest in the 1950s as part of the federal Indian relocation policy, and her work reflects the experience of a Native American living in urban Los Angeles. She often addresses the attempts to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American culture, as well as larger themes of racism, alienation, and substance abuse. Belin lives in Durango, Colorado, with her husband and children.

PHOTO: “Los Angeles Smog” by Benjamin Amstutz, ALL RIGHT RESERVED.

by Simon J. Ortiz

Lie on your back on stone
the stone carved to fit
the shape of yourself.
Who made it like this,
knowing that I would be along
in a million years and look
at the sky being blue forever?

My son is near me. He sits
and turns on his butt
and crawls over to stones,
picks one up and holds it,
and then puts it in his mouth.
The taste of stone.
What is it but stone,
the earth in your mouth.
You, son, are tasting forever.

We walk to the edge of a cliff
and look down into the canyon.
On this side, we cannot see
the bottom cliffedge but looking
further out, we see fields,
sand furrows, cottonwoods.
In winter, they are softly gray,
The cliffs’ shadows are distant,
hundreds of feet below;
we cannot see our own shadows,
The wind moves softly into us,
My son laughs with the wind;
he gasps and laughs.

We find gray root, old wood,
so old, with curious twists
in it, curving back into curves,
juniper, pinon, or something
with hard, red berries in spring.
You taste them, and they are sweet
and bitter, the berries a delicacy
for bluejays. The plant rooted
fragilely in a sandy place
by a canyon wall, the sun bathing
shiny, pointed leaves.
My son touches the root carefully,
aware of its ancient quality.
He lays his soft, small fingers on it
and looks at me for information.
I tell him: wood, an old root,
and around it, the earth, ourselves.

NOTE: Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established on April 1, 1931 as a unit of the National Park Service. It is located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, it preserves ruins of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples (also called Anasazi) and Navajo. The monument covers 83,840 acres and encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. These canyons were cut by streams with headwaters in the Chuska mountains just to the east of the monument. None of the land is federally owned. In 2009, Canyon de Chelly National Monument was recognized as one of the most-visited national monuments in the United States. (SOURCE:

PHOTO: “Canyon de Chelly” by Ansel Adams (1941)

by Simon J. Ortiz

Two nights ago
in the canyon darkness,
only the half-moon and stars,
only mere men.
Prayer, faith, love,
                       We are measured
by vastness beyond ourselves.
Dark is light.
Stone is rising.
I don’t know
if humankind understands
culture: the act
of being human
is not easy knowledge.
With painted wooden sticks
and feathers, we journey
into the canyon toward stone,
a massive presence
in midwinter.
We stop.
                       Lean into me.
The universe
sings in quiet meditation.
We are wordless:
I am in you.
Without knowing why
culture needs our knowledge,
we are one self in the canyon.
And the stone wall
I lean upon spins me
wordless and silent
to the reach of stars
and to the heavens within.
It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness
we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.
“Culture and the Universe” appears in Simon J. Ortiz‘s collection Out There Somewhere (University of Arizona Press, 2002).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simon J. Ortiz, an Acoma Pueblo Indian, was born and raised near Albuquerque, New Mexico, grew up speaking the Acoma tongue. After attending Fort Lewis College and the University of New Mexico, Ortiz earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the University of Iowa in 1969. In the early 1970s he began to write in earnest while teaching at various colleges, and in 1982 won a Pushcart Prize and a wide audience with From Sand Creek. His work also includes 1992’s Woven Stone—a spiritual autobiography that blends poetry and prose. (Read more at

PHOTO: “Stars over Bryce Canyon” (Utah) by Dana Sohm, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

by R.T. Smith

It was in the Moon When the Cherries Turn Black.
We cut birch saplings,
packed our tipis on travois
and followed the Bison Wind to the banks of the Rosebud.
But that was not a good year.
The Arapahoes we called Blue Clouds
attacked our hunting parties under the Bitten Moon,
and the leaves fled early.
In that hungry winter some say the snow reached
the ponies’ withers. The elk were hard
to find, and many of our people forgot
to slit bone masks and went snowblind.
Some of the bands got lost for a while. Some died.
I think it was that winter when a medicine man
named Creeping came among us, curing
the snowblinds. He packed snow across their eyes
and sang the song from his dream.
Then he would blow on the backs of their heads
and sing hey hey hey hey, and they would see.
It was about the dragonfly
whose wings wear eyes that he sang,
for that was where he claimed his power lay.
We also spoke to the snow of dragonflies,
and soon the deep patches melted
and the hunters brought us fresh meat.
Creeping left one night on a pony drag.
Some say he was a man of much craziness,
and I thought so too, but the next summer
I had my vision of giants slanting down like arrows
from clouds. They sang the song of the elk
speaking with the sacred voice.
The next year was the good year.
A song was singing me. 


“What Black Elk Said” is found in SPLIT THE LARK: Selected Poemsby R. T. Smith, available on

 Image: “Dragonflies Moon” by Borealnz, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joy Harjo (born May 9, 1951) is a Native American poet, musician, and author. Known primarily as a poet, Harjo has also taught at the college level, played alto saxophone with a band called Poetic Justice, edited literary journals, and written screenplays. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Cherokee descent, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. In 1995, Harjo received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. In 2002, Harjo received the PEN Open Book Award for A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales. Harjo joined the faculty of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in January 2013. (Read more at Visit Joy Harjo at

“Eagle Poem” appears in Joy Harjo’s collection In Mad Love and War.(Wesleyan University Press, 1990), available at

Author Photo: Joy Harjo, Albuquerque, 1975, by LaVerne Harrell Clark, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Illustration: “Eagle Flight,” watercolor (detail) by The Rose Palette (


On November 23, 2013, one of our favorite poets, Joy Harjo, received a 2013 American Book Award for her memoir Crazy Brave (W.W. Norton, July 2013).  In the book, Harjo, one of the nation’s leading Native American voices, details her journey as an artist — from her difficult childhood to her transformation into an award-winning poet and musician. .

Find Crazy Brave, a memoir by Joy Harjo at