Monday, April 11, 2016

Indigenous: Why Do Politicians Not Talk about Indigenous People's Issues? #AtoZChallenge Letter I

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.
Thinking about "I" and its obvious centrality to the ego, I scratched my head ticking off a list of "I" words. None inspired. Not even inspire and its variants.

What to do about "I"?

I recently stumbled upon Sherman Alexie's list of favorite Native American poets and discovered Orlando White. Reading his poem "Finis" from the collection Letters (2015) I was struck by the image of the guilty "I" that, paradoxically also suffers: 

"a dark i slung / Is not innocent: / the i with a white noose / also around his neck, / blindfolded asphyxiated." 

The political, cultural, social implications of paper as a noose resonates with indigenous peoples. 

How often have we asked our Native American students to privilege the literature and language of oppressors? 

How many treaties has the U.S. government broken with Native American tribes? 

How often do white people insert themselves into tribal issues such as casinos on reservations? 

I have not heard one word about Native American issues during the current election cycle. Simply, politicians treat America's indigenous peoples as though they are erasures on the white page of history, something Orlando White recognizes: 

"Spaces within / words are / miniature knots / that suspend letters-- / the paper / always / tightening." 

Perhaps it's only human nature to focus on the "I" to the exclusion of the "i" Orlando White writes about.Yet this tendency to think that by ensuring others have the same opportunities and rights we have will somehow diminish our own chokes our humanity. It is a noose around our nation's neck, one many politicians continue tightening. 

I believe in the power of letters and words to free. But I know that throughout history these same letters and words have harmed many, particularly indigenous peoples. 

Each law designed to diminish the autonomy of women, of members of the LGBTQ community, of African Americans, of Hispanics, and, of course, Native Americans is "A sound-loop" that "hangs from the white gallows of the page..." 

Isn't it time we stopped the lynchings? 

Finis by Orlando White
A sound-loop hangs from the white gallows of the page:
                letter j strung up,

                                                          the crook of her foot postmortem—

                                                          leg sway.

                              Mouth retches

                                                                         a vowel                  round o

                             then from the roof

                                                                                        gasps           a dark l slung.

                Is not innocent:
                                                             the i with a white noose

                                                             also around his neck,

                                                             blindfolded, asphyxiated.

Spaces within                    words are                       miniature knots

that suspend letters—

                                                                  the paper

                                                                                                                            always tightening.

*My AP Literature and Composition students will be competing in a "Poetry Countdown to the Final Four" this April. The winner will receive a copy of Orlando Bloom's book Letters.


  1. I think therefore I am came from Star Trek but the person who spoke the words was the next best thing to a politician.

    1. Actually, "I think, therefore I am" originated with Aristotle: Gogito ergo sum.

  2. You're finding such intriguing poetry! It's not as hot a topic as Donald Trump's hands. Media circus. I saw a film - it was fantastic, but I'm blanking on the name, Dakota 38 (thank goodness for googlee). Maui Jungalow

    1. Speaking of the big ego D, tomorrow's post is the antithesis of that one but w/ no poetry. I'll get back to the poetry, I'm sure.