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The Spirits Still Among Us: Native American Poets and the Voices of History in the Present Tense

Author: Sydney Hunt Coffin


Edison/Fareira High School

Year: 2014

Seminar: Native American Voices: The People – Here and Now

Grade Level: 9-12

Keywords: History, Identity, Native American, poetry, voice

School Subject(s): English

In this curriculum unit, students are led through a series of activities around Native American poetry of the 20th century, including listening to music, reading text, drawing objects, watching video, performing close readings, and in a culminating exercise, creative writing. Throughout the five 90 minute lesson plans, students are given the experience of ceremony around poetry, and the teacher is exposed to a variety of perspectives on the land, stereotypes, identity, tradition, activism and voice as well as the tools to share these elements of Native American poetry with others.

Download Unit: Coffin-Sydney-unit.pdf

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Full Unit Text

My students in North Philadelphia are almost all living below the poverty line, and suffer silently from unutterable experiences. I believe that in order to achieve academically and learn to read, write, think and speak, they must at least begin the process of healing from their sources of trauma through finding their own voice, speaking of a malaise that the writer Betty Friedan called famously “the problem that has no name”.[i] Nothing can match the desperation of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, America’s poorest zip code in 2013, but at Edison High School, and generally throughout the City of Philadelphia, there is similarly a hunger for sufficient nutrition, adequate safe, affordable housing, sustainable employment in order to achieve “the good life”, and even the security of personal safety from random, unpredictable and dramatic violence. There is also a virtual starvation for education supporting the search for student voice, which there can never be too much of (unless of course we are practicing Sustained Silent Reading!)

With this comparison in mind, each year I challenge my students to read the novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, who lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation of Washington State. Outside of this novel they are rarely exposed to the continuing presence of so called “Urban Indians” or are even aware of the historical presence of Native tribes so close to our school in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York State. Whether of the Lenni Lenape or of the greater Iroquois League, there is a treacherous ignorance that is ultimately harmful to kids attempting to make sense of the world in which they live, as well as the world from which they and their ancestors have come. This curriculum unit can serve to reduce that absence of knowledge, and help to understand the current experience of Native Americans. Insight into the poetry of contemporary native writers can expand students’ awareness of both historical and emotional truth, and serve to help avoid the “lies my teacher told me” (such as the mythical Thanksgiving feast most Americans celebrate every November, as detailed by author James W. Loewen in his book of the same name).

In addition to the unit’s purpose in deepening an appreciation of the novel by Sherman Alexie, it will also compensate for an absence of curriculum around poetry for my Poetry arts elective. I believe the introduction of such verbal variety may validate the many voices within my classroom, even if they are somehow mottled, mixed or lost by the ravages of time and the same Westward expansion that threatened to destroy the indigenous voices shared here. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans at my school will be able to identify with the clear sense of specific cultural identity that Native American poets seem to have, in that they share an equally clear and complex sense of self. We all need to search and find ourselves somewhere outside of ourselves, whether it is in lovers, books, music, or even other cultures. Looking at yourself from another perspective can be like standing on the mountain that makes the art museum’s steps and looking down into one’s life; it can be like watching the sometimes muddy and strong current that makes the Schuylkill River, and seeing something of oneself in its turbulent waters, or walking a little differently upon stepping out of the potholed, pockmarked and sometimes enlightening streets of Philadelphia, where the earth sometimes shows its broad face in the wide swath of green graveyard surrounding our school, each gravestone a tooth making a many-named smile that threatens to break free and beam with mirth.

In the words of Duane Niatum, in his preface to The Harper’s Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poets, “even without a uniformity of subject matter, metaphor, or style, Native American poets carry with them the spirit of a common cultural heritage, expressed in divergent and often stunning ways. In their individual poetry that spirit has not died. On the contrary, it has grown and is growing.”[ii] Another one of the best books I found on Native American poetry is called Changing is Not Vanishing. On page 7 of this largely retrospective volume, editor Robert Parker writes that “Most of the poems in this collection come from newspapers and magazines, not from books of poetry” He goes on to say

Poets’ sense of the audience for newspapers and magazines influenced their poetry’s style and form…Most of the poetry in this book is accessible to readers in a way that later poetry may not be…readers of this book interested in seeing early Indian poetry but who may not typically read poetry from our own age will find this poetry easier to read than much modern and contemporary poetry.[iii]

Regardless of his expectation that modern poetry is more difficult to read than that of past verse, it is an essential component to understanding Native American voices. In this spirit, the lessons that follow are an attempt to make these voices more accessible.

[i] Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique, in

[ii] Niatum, Duane. Harper’s Anthology, ix

[iii] in Parker, Robert Dale. Changing is Not Vanishing, 7


Many varying themes emerge from poetry written by Native Americans; students participating in this 1-3 week unit of study will be exposed to a variety of native poets from around the country. All exercises can be appropriate for any region, given a little independent spirit from the teacher in charge. The students, however, will do the “lion’s share” of the work to analyze and engage with the voices of Native Americans. The goal and essential objective is to align one’s thinking with the experience of Native authors, as a means of understanding a contemporary experience of history, in both memory and current thinking. Young writers studying within this unit will hopefully begin taking upon themselves the identities of the tribes and poets they study, and in so doing will find their own stories, indeed their own voices, written between the lines. Perhaps students will also find they already have an inner affinity for the work of the writers they study, which I hope will be gradually revealed in exciting ways through the poetry in a process of inquiry and discovery.

In one sense the language and culture of certain tribal nations are not dying, but “resting” during the turmoil of the current era. Despite this fact, there is an anxiety among students of Native societies that both language and culture could become “extinct” if nothing is done to revive their use. Just as Hopi tribal member and journalist Patty Talahongva says in her essay “Being Hopi” that “it is my responsibility to carry on the teachings, the culture, and the religion so that my children and grandchildren will also have the opportunity to be Hopi”[i], it is the goal of this unit that students discover and explore their own traditions, culture, language, religion, and history, paralleling those of the poet and tribal member they research, seeing what and how he/she sees. In essence, I am hoping the student will ask “What is my tribe? What is my code? How do these find expression in my life, as in the work of this author? They are obligated by the work of this unit to define themselves by that author, and live through their poetry, and their choice of words, in a sense becoming whomever we are through them. Being who we are is to leap beyond stereotype, into both a personal and a historical investigation. In order to find out who we are, where we are going, and how we will get there, students can begin with the compelling example of Native poets.

In her essay “‘Indians’, Solipsisms and Archetypal Holocausts” writer Paula Gunn Allen states: “Native people are neither like non-Natives nor like American popular conceptions generated by New Age materials, films, histories, or other media.”[ii] In actuality, just as there have been many tribes with distinct identities, there are also many individual poets coming from Native American traditions who have distinct and truly individual identities of their own, despite being associated with a larger group of people called the Shoshone, the Apache, the Navajo, Sioux, Seneca, or Shawnee, and others. The traits of later poets tend to lean more towards the modern phenomenon of being artists, rather than “singers” or storytellers of the past (in some traditions). In very concrete ways the term “Artist”, and the identity associated with it, can be broader and simultaneously more open to wider possibilities than the older role of “healer”, “spiritual aspirant”, or “entertainer”, but artists still play the role of a shaman. The Artist may play any one, several, or many more than these roles as part of their effort at writing poetry. The great Native American poets today and in the near recent past can be a path to opening outsiders in to a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking, and a new way of being, so that a type of healing can occur. My hope is that students will take on the role of healing themselves of ignorance about this important aspect of being an American through education, and perhaps learn to help others grow in the same process.

[i] Talahongva, Patti. Expedition Magazine, Winter 2013 issue, 27

[ii] by Allen, Paula Gunn in Moore, MariJo. Genocide of the Mind, 305


Students will employ a varied approach of inquiry and discovery in order to empathize with more than just poets and texts; additionally they will expand their search to include objects, in particular those available through the Native American Voices exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. According to the PA Department of Education website “Increasing reading of various types of literature including but not limited to world literature, US seminal documents, and governmental documents”, following the Pennsylvania Common Core in its page of emphasis in 9th to 12th grade classrooms of English Language Arts. Much of students’ work will focus upon, and yet not be limited to, the interweaving of literature by a specific cadre of writers through their remarkable poems, but also through their identities as tribal members, and as windows into the world of Native America. This auspicious collection of individual writers stems from my research into three anthologies (see the bibliography) I hold in high esteem, but is directly accessed through an exceptional gift of the Poetry Foundation, in the form of a list they have provided of ten poets and writers selected by the author Sherman Alexie. They have been selected as a focus group primarily due to their accessibility through YouTube, the World Wide Web, and popular publishing resources, but also due to their impressive variety of activities. This week of study will be broken down into five 90-minute periods of intense and rigorous investigation that will require Internet access for every student inside the unit’s sphere. Study the lesson plans before entering into this project to see the scope and direction of the work; it is meant to be immersion of the deepest type possible, given the limitations of the page.

Classroom Activities

Day 1:

In this opening day, students will be asked to enter a ceremony. The ceremony begins with imagining someone who is not present, someone who has died: a grandparent, a great, great, great grandparent, or even farther back. If there is an opportunity to do so, the ceremony can begin with music by contemporary flutist R. Carlos Nakai. (Earth Spirit 1/5,, is about 11 minutes long). Ask students as an exercise to write what they imagine that ancestor would say to them if they could hear them speak today.

Next, ask students to imagine an object, real or imaginary, which the ancestor could give to them from their own time. If students can try to draw the object they imagine, no matter how simple or rudimental the illustration that is ideal. Depending upon the time elapsed, plan to cut off the activity when the 2nd student loses interest or puts his her pencil down.

As a third introductory activity, have students imagine or recall, verbally, the name of the ancestor whose voice came to them, and share it aloud with the classroom, simultaneously, in a chorus of voices.

From here, students should put down their pencils and receive a handout of the poem “Children in the Meadows and Wetlands” by Suzan Shown Harjo (see appendix) and read aloud to students, as you become the voice of an elder. Explain that some poems are not meant to be analyzed as much as felt, that there is no test on the emotions within some poems, and that the beginning of this unit is to feel and become fully aware of the sense of loss that Native students felt when they left their tribal lands and were sent to schools like the Carlisle School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Just as everyone seems to attend some “school” in almost every part of the world today, learning is much deeper and more meaningful than anything that you, the teacher, will teach them this week. Nonetheless, explain how Native people were forbidden to speak their native languages, and that their long hair was cut off and they were removed from contact with their families and culture when they were sent to “Indian” boarding schools like the one at Carlisle. They were prohibited from practicing their religion, and often beaten and physically abused; the mentality of school leaders was that they had to “Kill the Indian in order to save the man”. Explain that today we mourn the loss of every ancestor who has had to leave his homeland. Explain that today and for the rest of the week, and the rest of the unit of study, students will be on a journey to find and give voice to their own ancestors as well as to discover the voices of Native Americans today, and to speak in harmony with these voices.

Depending on the time available to you (I have block scheduling, or 90-minute periods) the next activity is to play a video. If there is a lot of time, play “Colores: In Between the Lines: Native American Poetry” (available on Youtube here:, about ½ an hour long. If there isn’t much time, play “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” (available on Youtube, here:, about 5 minutes long. If you have a little longer, play “Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience” (available on Youtube, here:, about 10 minutes long. (In addition, part 2 is here:

Finally, students should be given time to reflect on any the films, either at the end or throughout, or both. Please be open to the process of turning criticism, awkwardness, or nervousness around material of this kind into factual observations, not biased by our own experiences and preconceptions. For example, with the longer film, “Colores”, “I saw a boy who was rapping in front of the desert and mountains.” Your point about arriving at this observation can be: “How amazing that students in that environment are trying to speak the same language as kids in the inner city, and the same language as mainstream American culture. Why do you think that is?” Another comment I can imagine occurring could be as harsh as “That woman is ugly, I don’t like the way she looks…” Your point could be: “How interesting that there are a variety of Native people who write and speak in different ways, and look different from you or me. How do you think you would appear to them?” The main focus here is to bring comments back to the core observation that there are a variety of Native peoples living today, at the same time as we are. This is, of course, only one example of tribal people, in one location; we will see others over the course of the week.

As an exit ticket, have students summarize their thoughts on the comments in class in exactly 25 words, as a type of game to get it to exactly 25. Alternatively, students can write a poem or a stanza of their own verse. If there is still time, play a video from the Santa Fe Indian School, such as “We Come From”: If this is saved as filler for another time, so be it.

Day 2:

Today, students will choose a Native poet from the list provided inside the unit. To begin with, and as a warm-up, students will draw the object before them, chosen from the Native American Voices exhibit page, here: Focus students upon giving total attention to a real Native object, in order to observe it entirely. You can play R. Carlos Nakai’s Earth Spirit 2/5 (about 13 minutes long, found here: ) while they draw.

Next, students should read “The False Face Masks and the Indian Museum Guards”, a poem by Suzan Shown Harjo (see appendix). Discuss the tone of the poem, as well as the syntax and subject matter: Is she angry in her poem? Bitter? Why would that be? Could there be a deeper underlying emotion and complexity to the piece than your first impressions? How do you imagine museums must find a balance between displaying, teaching, and exposing Native American culture and objects, versus protecting the sacred nature and privacy of the objects and culture at the very same time?

Following discussion of the poem, allow students to move about in the room to appreciate any of the drawings done by students earlier in the class. If at all possible, teachers should provide a wide selection of objects or images in handout form for students to observe, from a variety of tribal affiliations and cultures using the link to the University of Pennsylvania Anthropology and Archaeology Museum. Any object can serve to stir up students’ imaginations towards the objectification of material culture in Native America. They should be taught to understand that many of the artifacts that reside in museums today were originally sacred or of enough importance that some Native Americans find it odd or even offensive to see their culture paraded throughout the world in museum collections and taken out of context. Nonetheless, museums are now leading the effort to preserve and respect the very cultures from which they have historically stolen objects.

Beginning today, students will pursue a project involving a Native American poet of their own choice, using as a guide an interview Sherman Alexie did with public television mainstay Bill Moyers, found here: , and the Poetry Foundation’s guide to Native American poets and culture, found here: . The majority of the class should work in teams to research and explore at least one work of poetry by a poet from these lists. Begin by having students read the essay “Indians in T-shirts”, here: , which explores the history of the Institute of American Indian Arts’ (IAIA) effort to teach Native poetry within a contemporary context in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some essential questions you could be asking about the essay while they read are: What types of poetry did the students learn from? How did the students respond to the material they studied? And, How does the school serve to forward the recognition of Native Americans as a distinct and present-day culture? This could take as long as 20-30 minutes, so prepare for a brain break of some sort, with this lighthearted but incredible video by “Supaman”, found on Youtube here: . For homework, students can begin by finding one poem by an author from the lists provided by Sherman Alexie and the Poetry Foundation in order to bring it to the next class.

Day 3:

While playing “Earth Spirit 3/5”, found here:, warm up with another drawing exercise, using contemporary stereotypical images of “Indians” from the Native American Voices Exhibit, found here: The emphasis in this activity should be upon observing stereotypes of Native Americans in order to overcome them. These are actual images from our society, and can be magnified by the short video “Proud To Be” after some drawing, found here: It is a powerful video, and you may want to take time to discuss its impact, and then segue into the poetry to follow.

And now for poetry: today’s class will deal largely with stereotypes of Native Americans, so students should be made conscious of the meaning of the term stereotype = to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same[i] and then watch the spoken word video by Winona Linn called “Knock-off Native” that explores the phenomenon of our own perceptions and preconceptions: Here is another, about stereotypes and racial slurs: And still another, more powerful and artistic than many, called “Bad Indian”: Finally, one that speaks to the terminology of the military when killing Osama Bin Laden, “Geronimo E-KIA”: Use a Venn Diagram or other graphic organizer to compare the traits of each poem, as well as the stereotypical traits being explored in the performances.

Any or all of these poetry videos should serve to open the eyes of young students to the reality and complex entrenchment of stereotypes in representations of Native Americans, but some probing may be necessary: From where do stereotypes emerge? Possible responses: The survival of European colonialism depended upon demonization and even elimination of Native American sovereignty, or possession of valuable lands; often, greed played a large part, so that with degradation of Native people’s honor allowed Europeans to break treaties and ignore the value in Native peoples’ culture, religions, and customs, including holding the land as sacred as an “undeveloped resource”. How can stereotypes be combatted, both on an individual micro-scale, and institutionally on a macro-scale? Possible responses: Through confronting individuals with factual rather than presumptive evidence of Native peoples’ rights, honor, dignity, history, and sovereignty; through public media campaigns and educational outreach; through respecting and even honoring or empowering Native voices in our society and in our personal lives. What are the intended and unintended consequences of stereotypes on Native American peoples? Possible responses: Many tribal people in our country and abroad have high rates of inadvertent consequences, such as alcoholism, suicide, diabetes, low self-esteem, poverty, etc. Just watch the video here:

As an exit ticket, have students write about a time they themselves were stereotyped, and the unintended or inadvertent consequences that resulted from such treatment.

Day 4:

Begin with R. Carlos Nakai’s “Earth Spirit 4/5” (found here: ) while students draw from Tlingit art designs, found on Google images, here:….0…1ac.1.48.img..0.11.713.JDerxs7ZyoU . While some of the art may not be contemporary, most students will find it pretty cool to look at, and Tlingit art has been the inspiration for a lot of current tattoos. Additionally or alternatively, you can show images of Navajo/Dineh textiles, found here:

Next, launch into independent student work. If each group or individual can have access to a computer, or perhaps they have done their homework (or you’ve done it for them!) and printed a copy of a poem by their poet, they should all read the poem and follow a series of steps: (1) Decide if the poem is any good for your purposes-is it right for you? If not, move on to another poem. (2) Re-read the poem and decide if it fits into the 3 categories: about the land, about tradition/heritage/ancestors, or about activism. If the subject of the poem isn’t any of these three, that’s fine-figure out what it is about. (3) Break the poem down structurally: is it free verse, rhyming, or some combination of the two? Is it lyric, dramatic, or narrative? Does it have rhythm? Stanzas? Refrains? Repetition? Why would the poet choose these forms, based on the subject? (4) Are there any interesting words, phrases, or lines (called an author’s use of diction)? Why did the author use these words? What are the connotations and denotations of these words? A dictionary or computer will be very useful during this exercise. Finally, (5) connect the poem with larger issues around Native American identity: As a group, discuss the possible ways that the poem speaks to who the poet is. Can you make inferences about the voice of the poet in the poem? How does all the information from the earlier steps tie together to form an understanding of the piece of writing? Combine all your ideas together into a type of constructed response that answers the essential question-What makes this poem distinctly Native American? How is it unique to a Native American identity (or not)? Students should write their own reflection piece on the poem, but you might choose to scaffold their note taking activities on the poem with a graphic organizer; a simple 4-5 column worksheet will do fine.

As an exit activity you could have students come together as a group, share some of their reflections and insights into their poems, and watch a video. I suggest a poem by the Santa Fe Indian School poetry team, if there’s time, called “Evolution” (found here:, or return to try “We Come From” (found here:

Day 5:

In this final day of the unit (unless you choose to spend more time on any aspect of this curriculum), you can begin with the song “Earth Spirit 5/5” by R. Carlos Nakai while students read the first 3 stanzas of the poem “Sacred Ground II” (in Appendix 4) by Suzan Shown Harjo. By this time your students should be pretty accomplished at performing a “close reading” of a poem, and that is what they should do here, with one twist: rather than having them take notes or write a constructed response, use this time as a sounding board for airing interesting comments and insights into the work, both specifically to this poem as well as generally to the field. Use the poem as an opportunity to let your students’ voices come out; try to draw something from each one of them; sit in a circle if possible, to facilitate more active engagement in the process of sharing thoughts aloud. Ask students to summarize the work they have been doing in poetry, and have them prepare to write their own poetry.

Every poet has his or her own method for writing poetry, and frequently I have heard my students in Philadelphia say that a classroom is NOT where it happens for them. However, by now you may have created a type of space for this process. I want to caution you here, that there is a fine line between New Age faux spirituality and the kind of mood necessary for employing this type of climate in any room, and it can become all too easy to seem corny, fake, derivative, or even patronizing to students; hopefully your students (and mine) will enter into a creative mood when they hear the writer’s statement by Arthur Sze, the Director and lead poetry teacher at the Santa Fe Institute of American Indian Arts, found here: (you can read it aloud to them)

I never start my own poems by using a dictionary, but I sometimes find it helpful in the process of creation. For instance, I wrote a poem in nine sections, Quipu, that was recently published in “Conjunctions”. Quipu is the Quechua word for knot, and it turns out the Incas used bundles of string, or quipus, to record all sorts of critical information: how many potatoes were stored in bins in the mountainside, or the population of Cuzco, or historical information, or even poems. A quipu had a main string and then subsidiary strings that were dyed different colors, and different knots were used to encode the information. When I was writing my poem, I looked up the simple word, as, in the dictionary, and wrote out all of its possible meanings. I didn’t force myself to use all of them, but I consciously used many of them. The varied meanings enabled me to layer and charge the poem in an unusual way. The word as appears so innocuous, but each time it’s used, it has a knotting effect.[ii]

In addition, or in place of the above, students can listen to and watch a 2 minute interview by Bill Moyers with author Sherman Alexie, who describes his writing method for the poem “Ode to Gray”, found here: at the bottom of the web page. Primarily, and most importantly, students should feel ready to write, so you may want to brainstorm with your students for a few writing topics that have arisen through the unit, such as: the land, place, heritage, ancestry, tradition, relocation, poverty, creativity, spirituality, dispossession, prayer, mythology, stereotype, colonialism, oppression, genocide, persistence, memory, song, chanting, activism, alcoholism, politics, history (inspired by a discussion on Native aesthetics between Linda Hogan, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, and Sherwin Bitsui at the Poetry Foundation, found here: ).

After a period of silent writing, please encourage students to share a favorite line, or simply the topic they have chosen, if not the whole poem. In my own class I would allow students to take their beginning work home with them to polish independently, but it’s up to you. I plan to compile their poems into a small pamphlet or book of student work.

End class, and this unit, with a reading/recitation of the quote by Crowfoot that begins this unit:

What is life?

It is the flash of a firefly in the night.

It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.

It is the little shadow that runs across the grass

and loses itself in the sunset.[iii]

[i] Merriam Webster online dictionary,


[iii] in Mcluhan, Terry C. Touch The Earth

Annotated Bibliography

Foss, Phillip. The Clouds Threw This Light: Contemporary Native American Poetry. Santa Fe, N.M.: Institute of American Indian Arts Press, 1983.

An oversized book rich in poet’s biographies and 1-2 poems each.

Glancy, Diane. Visit Teepee Town: Native Writings After the Detours. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1999.

An original take on Native American Writings, it takes an ironic tone throughout.

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Touchstone trade pbk. ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

A popular contrast to the misinformation of American textbooks, for lay readers.

Moore, MariJo. Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003.

This is an excellent reader for understanding authentic contemporary Native thought.

Nerburn, Kent. The Wisdom of the Native Americans. Novato, CA: New World Press, 1999.

A beautiful composition of writings, speeches, and philosophy from primary texts.

Niatum, Duane. Harper’s Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.

A thrift edition of collected Native Poetry, this book is perfect for use in schools.

Parker, Robert Dale. Changing is Not Vanishing: A Collection of Early American Indian Poetry to 1930. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

This a lengthy exploration of some popular & obscure Native poetry & its significance.

Tapahonso, Luci. Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

A beautiful collection of short writing (not just poetry) by the iconic verse artist.

Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask. Saint Paul, MN: Borealis Books, 2012.

A brief layperson’s guide to the history of the “Indian” in the United States of America.

Williams, Lucy Fowler, William S. Wierzbowski, and Robert W. Preucel. Native American Voices on Identity, Art, and Culture: Objects of Everlasting Esteem. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2005.

An elegant coffee table book with full-color photos and informative essays on each object by Native specialists; a terrific companion to the Native American Voices exhibit.

Online Resources = John Trudell/The Tribes of Europe/slides = SFIS Spoken Word: “Evolution” = SFIS Spoken : “We Come From” = Winona Linn: “Knock-off Native” = “I’m An Indian Too” (spoof) = Tlingit art on Google images = “Redskins” debate on ESPN = “Redskins” on “Democracy Now!” = Native American “Redskins” debate (comedy)


Appendix 1

“Children in the Meadows and Wetlands” by Suzan Shown Harjo

There are children in the meadows and wetlands

Native children ran there to hide

When teachers pulled and butchered their hair

When teachers stole their medicine bags

When teachers collected their moccasins

When teachers dressed them in strange clothes

When teachers beat them with boards and belts

When teachers starved them for being bad Indians

The children ran to the meadows and wetlands


There are children in the meadows and wetlands

Hostages who were taken to Haskell

Who never saw their families again

Who never saw nine or eleven or tomorrow

Who didn’t make it home for summer vacations

Who couldn’t stop whooping and coughing

Who couldn’t learn English fast enough

Who wouldn’t fall to their knees often enough

They ran ‘til they fell in the meadows and wetlands


There are children in the meadows and wetlands

Hostages who were taken to Chilocco

Where they ran from teachers fists and boots

Where they ran from bounty-hunters’ cages

Where they ran from high collars and hard shoes

Where they ran from lye soap in their mouths

Where they ran from day and night

Where they ran until wolves outran them

Their teeth in the meadows and wetlands


There are children in the meadows and wetlands

Hostages who were taken to Carlisle

Who go to build the school buildings

Who got Christian burials without coffins

Who got a mass grave with their friends

Who got plowed under for a football field

Who got embedded in concrete for the stadium

Who got to be the practice site for the Washington Redskins

Because they ran to the meadows and wetlands


There are children in the meadows and wetlands

Native children ran there to hide

You can see their clothes in museums

You can see their pipe bags at the opera

You can see bands marching on their hallowed ground

You can see mascots dancing over their dead bodies

You can imagine their hair long and beautiful again

Safe from teachers and scissors at last

These children in the meadows and wetlands


Appendix 2

“The False Face Masks and the Indian Museum Guards” by Suzan Shown Harjo


The Indian museum guards were tired

They’d been on their feet for hours

This was the time, after midnight

To sit by the main entrance and rest


The false facemasks were tired

They’d been stuck behind glass for decades

This was the time, between dusk and dawn

To take their medicine and escape


The guards didn’t look at the glass cases anymore

The mummified woman gave them the willies

The shrunken heads seemed to look at them

The baby cords in beaded turtles moved around


The faces missed the smell of burning tobacco

And the songs and rattles that went with smoke

Today, someone scattered tobacco leaves under the case

And the faces had their first good meal in years


The guards got yelled at for the leaves on the floor

When they said no one was in the vicinity

They grumbled while sweeping the exhibit area

And noticed that someone had been smoking there


The ancestors of the guards were from Africa

And their families told them about some magic things

They had not seen many Indians in the Indian museum

But they still had seen some Indian magic things


The ancestors of the faces were Haudenosaunee visions

One was older, with more of a twist to his nose and mouth

Both were dressed with small buckskin pouches

Filled with medicine from their last healing dance


The faces were doctors and they missed curing people

They worked at night and always finished by dawn

The younger one knew how to mend war wounds

The elder specialized in unexplained pain


The faces missed the society of humans in longhouses

And the company of Faces carved in trees in the woods

They were excited to hear the man with the tobacco say

“We need your help; it’s time to come home”


The faces left the museum that night, without disturbing anything

Except the guards, who left right behind them

The exhibit cases had been closed for 30 years

And showed no signs of being opened that night


The guards said nothing moved but the masks and swore that

They heard a sound like heavy rain on plastic, maybe a signal

They saw the masks float through the glass of the exhibit case

And through the revolving door, and disappear outside


The guards said the masks just walked out of the museum

They did not look to the left or to the right

The masks left like they were never going back

The guards swore they would not go back either


The Indian museum never explained the incident

The guards never returned to the Indian museum

The faces never returned to the Indian museum

The faces in the woods at Onondaga are smiling


Appendix 3

“Sacred Ground II” by Suzan Shown Harjo


eagles disappear into the sun

surrounded by light from the face of Creation

then scream their way home

with burning messages of mystery and power


some are given to snake doctors and ants and turtles and salmon

to heal the world

with order and patience


some are given to cardinals and butterflies and yellow medicine flowers

to heal the world

with joy, with joy


some are given to bears and buffalos and human peoples

to heal the world

with courage and prayer


Messages for holy places

in the heart of Mother Earth

deep inside the Old Stone Woman

whose wrinkles are canyons


in the roaring waters and clear blue streams

and bottomless lakes

who take what they need


in the forests of grandfather cedars

and mountains of grandmother sentinel rocks

who counsel ‘til dawn


Messages for holy places

where snow thunder warns

and summer winds whisper

this is Sacred Ground . . .


Many special thanks to Suzan Shown Harjo for the gift of these poems for educational use.


( (accessed 4/7/2014)


  • Drawing connections between texts (CC.1.2.9-10.I) (CC.1.3.9-10.E) (CC.1.3.9-10.G)
  • Analyzing author’s word choices and the impact on meaning and tone (CC.1.2.9-10.F) (CC.1.3.9-10.F)
  • Analyzing shades of meaning: connotation, nuance, detonation. (CC.1.3.9-10.J)
  • Recognizing and addressing alternate or opposing claims and their relationship to stated position, argument or claim. (CC.1.4.9-10.I) (CC.1.4.9-10.J)
  • Developing narratives using real and imagined experiences (CC.1.4.9-10.M)
  • Write informative/explanatory to convey complex ideas (CC.1.4.9-10.A)
  • Strengthening writing through the process of revision and the considerations needed to strengthen writing. (CC.1.4.9-10.T)