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Indigenous Poetry


More Poetry

Beware the Bluehearts!
Blue Hearts
Corn Covered Elder
Culture is an Illusion
Extermination of a Nation
Ghost Dance
Halfbreed Girl in the City School
Mixed Reflection
Passamaquoddy Girl
Plastic Medicine Man
Think Indian
Warning Song
Water Dog


by John Trudell

You are a Brother
And a Sister
In the colors of Life

Some people believe
They are races
Human races
Whatever that may be

Races are for running
The competitive edge
Distrust and confusion
Leaving alterations
In innocent faces

We are natural Life
A part of Mother Earth's design
A blending of colors
To make the difference
In the teaching
of meanings

We are colors
in the family
of Life.

Culture is an Illusion:
The Stronger the Illusion, The Stronger the Magic

culture is a living entity of sorts
it is a peoples, a societies response to their environment
their interactive relationship with each other and with their environment
as the environment changes the culture responds
it evolves, it mutates, and it is practical
if it works, it remains
if not it changes

your culture entrenches you with your world view
as your building materials change from
stick,log, mud and stone to concrete, pressboard, plastic and steel
as the shapes of your abode changes
as your home becomes encircled with an electrical field
and water flowing through lead, plastic, copper and steel
as your daily focus moves from growing food, carrying water,
and hunting, being primarily responsible for all your basic needs
to consuming, buying, producing and having, working for money,
working for success, working for prestige, for greed, for
fame and recognition or merely working to put food on your table
as technology races ahead, as we have tv's, computers in our homes,
cellular phones, vcr's, world information access, we sleep on synthetics
eat synthetics, walk on synthetics, wear synthetics
and our culture and our world view changes

so which changes first?
your changing culture?
or your changing world view.

I am a person
take me as I
come, as I go
Know that I will change
Know that I will grow

I wear a skin
it is not my soul

what was once my culture
is now my past
what is my present
will not last
and somewhere in between
my eyes, my heart, my soul has seen
that the paths of the future
are born from being

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Halfbreed Girl in the City School

by Jo Whitehorse Cochran

are you Mexican
are you Italian
are you Chinese
are you Japanese
spic wetback greaseball slant-eye
you are dark enough to question
you are light enough to ask
you have near black hair brown eyes
and speak slow-english
we are blonde blue eyed
and wear store bought sweaters skirts or pants
you wear homemade clothes out of style
we circle round you and your sister
you hug your sister close she's small and even darker
we kick we tug at braids and coats
we pull "I'm Indian!" out of you

the social worker wants
you to describe your family
she asks
does your father beat you
does your mother
does your father drink
does your mother
do you hate your parents
do you cry
tell me tell me do you
like the reservation better
are you ashamed in the classroom
when you wet your pants
why don't you speak up
why don't you get excused
why don't you go at recess
tell me tell me speak!

you stare out the window
turn an alphabet block in your hand
speak english speak english
the social worker caws
outside Canadian geese pass through your immediate sky
six in an arc going south
if you were a Changer like Star Boy
you could fly with those long-necks
but you must stay and look out this window

Grandma's words pound in your head
they want to strip us of our words
they want to take our tongues
so we forget how to talk to each other
you swallow the rock
that was your tongue
you swallow the song
that was your voice
you swallow you swallow
in the silence

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Extermination of a Nation

hope remains
as the sun rises
and the rays
fall on this earth
for another day
and the light fades
and hope remains
for the rising of the sun again

and when the westerners came
the white men
thieves in the night
taking with one hand
and holding with the other

raping, tormenting and killing
the men and women he should have known
as his sister and his brother

killing for the land
which he has raped and destroyed
concept of unity
of which he is devoid

destruction and disregard
for the plants, the animals and the earth
this place of his birth

and in his consciousness he knows
and within his soul the disharmony grows

out of balance with the four elements
now his decedents and his children pay
as this land is ravaged by earthquake and flood
famine and fire
disease, death
and the violent spilling of blood

and as there is light
there is hope
that there is sight
hope that those who have not seen
for so long
will see
and return to a balancing way

for as
voices in song
rise from the center again
the resurrection of the living way

unsung unseen
till now and from the long march in between
from their voices, their souls
and their hearts
their song
it resonates
and the earth
and the universe

and with our hope
the rest of us
join in the song

(Return to index)

Ghost Dance

by Sandy Kewanhaptewa

Crow has brought the message
To the children of the sun
For the return of the buffalo
And for a better day to come

You can kill my body
You can damn my soul
For not believing in your god
And some world down below

You don't stand a chance against my prayers
You don't stand a chance against my love
They outlawed the Ghost Dance
But we shall live again, we shall live again

My sister above
She has red paint
She died at Wounded Knee
Like a latter day saint

You got the big drum in the distance
Blackbird in the sky
That's the sound that you hear
When the buffalo cry

Crazy Horse was a mystic
He knew the secret of the trance
And Sitting Bull the great apostle
Of the Ghost Dance

Come on Comanche
Come on Blackfoot
Come on Shoshoe
Come on Cheyenne

We shall live again

Come on Arapaho
Come on Cherokee
Come on Paiute
Come on Sioux

We shall live again.

And now, grandfather, I ask you to bless the white man.
He needs your wisdom, your guidance.
You see for so long he has tried to destroy my people
and only feels comfortable when given power.
Bless them, show them the peace we understand,
teach them humility.
For I fear they will destroy themselves and their children
as the have done
and so with Mother Earch.
I plead, I cry, after all
They are my brothers [and sisters]

(Return to index)

Plastic Medicine Man

by Gerard Donnelly-Smith

Like a Plastic Medicine Man,
I wobble my head to-and-fro on the dashboard
where someone has placed me without my permission.

Like a Plastic Medicine Man,
I find speaking has become difficult
because the windshield heat melts my lips together.

Like a Plastic Medicine Man,
I search for ways to shed this plastic skin
to unread what manipulators teach their children,
to unspeak what they have spoken,
to help make whole what they have broken.

Corn Covered Elder

I lie in the rain
a doghead on my belly
and the people gather around
placing bets
as to the moment
the sacred moment
when the Tbird swoops down
and claims the doghead!
I lie in the rain .....

But this is not the only wonder to be seen
at my Corn Covered Elder's Gaming Emporium!
No, it is not!

My Corn-Covered Elder sits atop a sacred platform
Over a sacred pool of morning water
Bound hand and foot he sits
as the people gather round
throw balls at the mysterious symbol!
When one hits just right
He descends
quickly, so quickly does he descend!
Great, so great, is the splash he makes!
My Corn-Covered Elder!

There are other wonders to be seen ....
I lie on the gaming table
On a buffalo rug ...
A mysterious symbol painted upon my belly
And at the center, a wheel that turns!
With the right turn of the wheel
the people can find great fortune
or lose it again!

And in the back room
They rent a poker table
Great blessings they gain
When they play with the Medicine Cards
Or, for the very daring
The Sweatlodge Cards!

So if you thought all these things were lost
If you thought the mysteries have been lost
They were not lost!
Dry your tears!
Try your luck!
Come one, come all
to the Corn Covered Elder's Gaming Emporium (open 24 hours!)

I know how to make a great salespitch!

Water Dog

I know how to talk backwards!
My songs are so bad, they are good!
So there!

Sitting in a mud puddle
counting the dreadlocks in my hair.....
My corn-covered elder, Grey Ant, drew a craps table on my belly
drew it with sacred cornmeal
Dreaming of all the money he would make
When he calls everyone in
to the Corn Covered Elder's Gaming Emporium (open 24 hrs)

This is his song.
He sings this.

Step right up folks!
The money you dream of!
The luck you dream of!
Hit the jackpot here!
Right here!
Slot machines!
Flashing lights!
No clocks in sight!
Plenty of it!
Whoot! There it is!
Whoot! There it is!
Whoot! There it is!

The tourists have followed the coyotes
into the Corn Covered Elder's Gaming Emporium!
Play and play till their purses are empty
Then leave
crying over the money that was lost.
And he watches them,
Grins as he throw stones into their backs
Grins as he counts the money that they have lost.

It was not always like this.
No, it was not.
My corn-covered elder tried ranching.
Fine grass-fed beef he raised!
But the people would not pay for good beef to eat.
His ranch went belly up!

He could not sell his beef
So great, so great was his shock
to see one morning when the sky was red
Many cows lay on their sides
as the Tbirds dined upon their choicest parts
Plenty of them!
He knew he could collect insurance on them!
Insurance money!
Plenty of it!
But it would take so long to process the claim ....
And how would he live until then?

He cried his despair!
He cried his empty wallet!
He cried to the moon
I lay by his side as he cried
adding my voice to his
adding my tears to his
and at last the Moon took pity on me
and on my Corn-Covered Elder
and she said --

"Humans are strange creatures
They will pay more for hope than for food
and pay more for entertainment
than for either hope or food!"

My corn-covered elder
he could hear her not
So I explained to him
speaking in a voice that is not my own --

These Sad Misdirected Human Persons will not pay for good food
When they can get a bargain on plasticised pinkchow!
They will not pay
Not what they would pay to see
a ball dancing upon a wheel
and giving them hope.
Not what they would pay to see
wheels turning
wheels marked with strange symbols upon them
wheels turning giving them hope.
They would not pay for food what they pay to see the hope-wheel turn!

It is true!
His ranch went belly up.
His Gaming Emporium makes money!
Plenty of it!
He has allowed himself to depend upon this!

And I....
I lie in the mud
a craps table drawn upon my belly with cornmeal
counting the money that is there ......
I liiiiiiiiiiie inna raaaaaaaaaain ........

(Return to index)


I liiiiiiiiiie inna raaaaaaaaaaain ....
drinking the sacred drink
which purifies me from within
making me regurgitate
many songs
which resemble the songs of another
in the same way that one tree resembles another
but is not every tree a special being?

They say I am a lost human person
sad and misdirected

I cry to my elder,
my corn-covered elder
I cry to the coyotes
And even to the Tbirds!
The fierce thunderbeings
who got me into this mess
in the first place!
and finally
with my last tears
and my last strength
I cry
to the Moon!


Why do I struggle
and drink sacred drink
and sing my songs
and beat the drum on my belly
till songs gush forth
only to have ANOTHER get the CREDIT?

Why have I not seen the words
which my songs have kindled
in the ones of Various Locations?

Why do they not know to speak
of what has been sung
to the one who has sung
and not to another?

Don't they even know how to read a "From:" line for goshsakes?

(Return to index)

Warning Song

Why must I sing my songs into emptiness
and receive only the wind as a reply?

My elder answers not
he is overcome by the sacred mushrooms .....
The coyote answers not
but bounds away on one leg!
The Tbird laughs
(strange, so strange, is his sense of humor
and the stench of his scales!)
his laughter is the thunder
as he blesses me with his morning water!
The water mingles with my tears
and chills my flesh so deeply
that I burn within
and shiver in my bones!
My cries wither away in the dark light of early dawn
and all around me
is emptiness.

At last the moon speaks
She says
"Don't feel so bad, little one
humans are such ungrateful creatures!
How well I know this!
But keep on singing
don't stop singing
you're gonna be a STAR someday!"

I know she is right
for already I am a STAR .......
and those who see me will know
and those who see the "FROM:" line will know!

but what did I do
to be so BLACK and BLUE?

(Return to index)

Blue Hearts

eat at the hearts of the dreamers
and sing songs that confuse their minds
until the dreamers know not which way is up
and collapse in the run-down areas at the center of the town!

I found myself in the morning on my side
(Someone had turned me over lest I choke!)
lying in a gutter
(Someone had covered me with newspaper lest I freeze!)
Cursing the day I had met the Blue Hearts
And listened to their songs
And cursing those who could have warned me of the Blue Hearts
but remained silent!

This is why I do this!
This is why I sing these songs
And say the things I say
And do the things I do!

My hands may never heal again
My feet may never dance
But as long as I have a mouth to sound a warning
And hands to write these words
I will sing
and sing
and sing

(Return to index)

Beware the Bluehearts

Am I a coward?
Is death the end?
I may live on as a spirit
Then again,
I may sleep forever
And never see the words of the
WHITE BUFFALO come true!

This is why the wise men say
he who fights and runs away
lives to fight another day!

Till then
there is no need to wear the Raven's feather in my hair --
Why make myself an easy target for their darts?
I strike at the Blue Hearts from ambush!
I strike at the Blue Hearts from my secret place!
The Raven's footprint is forever in my breast
and his feather forever planted in my heart.

Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Compiled by: Glenn Welker

Copyright @ 1993-2016

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