A Warming Tanka

white blankets the earth

frigid air through forest blows

my child with bare legs

while plants sleep tucked under snow

your pants I warm by the fire

~

On the coldest days of the year, please remember that someone in your town is homeless.

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Entry posted in tanka & poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

 

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Reasons

asked snow
of still life
“Why barren?
My drifts have soothed and cleansed.”

and
heart
began

BEATING

asked sun
of still voice
“Why silent?
My rays have warmed and brightened.”

and
lungs
began

BREATHING

asked rain
of still limbs
“Why stagnant?
My drops have restored and cheered.”

and
arms
began

STRETCHING

asked wind
then of me
“Why grounded?
My breath has moved and humored.”

and
I
began

SOARING

~

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in poetry & vers l’avant. Bookmark the permalink.

With Reservation

“Words do not pay for my dead people.”

Shall we talk
about
it
awhile while we travel the miles
of
defiled
land
slaughtered
animals
murdered
people
that
lead
to a
place
you will be
graciously confined to
called
a
reservation
but
you
don’t
need
an
application
just
lose
your
apprehension
and
stay
put
here
awhile while we hand out the piles
of
stingy
food
rationed
goods
white man’s
ways
that
you
are
being
graciously supplied
without
hesitation.

“Good words will not give me back my children.”

Yes, but you fled
showing great
premonition
against our
demands,

AND

we require
your
supplication
without
RESERVATION.

“Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law.”

Sure, just submit
to our
imposed
economic
spiritual
cultural
bounded
limitations

until we discover the next resource we want.

“Give them all an even chance to live and grow.”

You ARE free to live
and grow –
within the
restriction
called
a
RESERVATION
and
all
its
white man’s
imposed
economic
spiritual
cultural
bounded
rules!

“Let man be a free man – free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself – and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.”

Sigh.

We’ve talked
about
it
awhile
while you traveled the miles
to
bitter
tears
stolen
lives
broken
hearts
that
you
have now
been
forever (until we discover the next valuable resource we want need)
graciously subjected to
called
a
reservation
but…

“You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”

but…

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises.”

but…

“All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers…”

but…

“Words do not pay for my dead people.”

All the words in quotes above were taken from a speech given by In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat (Thunder traveling over the Mountains), more commonly known as Chief Joseph. He was chief of a tribe of the Nez Perces (Wal-lam-wat-kin band of the Chute-pa-lu), a group of people who had maintained peace with white people since they had first met and helped Lewis and Clark in 1805. It was always his goal to live peacefully with the white people. After a few young Nez Perces men took revenge on a white settler group who had killed their own fathers and brothers, Chief Joseph’s tribe became the target of military action and revenge, in spite of his appeals.

He led an extraordinary 1400 mile retreat with a band of 750 men, women, children and elderly through the mountains and canyons of the Northwest. He was simply seeking a safe place for his people to dwell. In four months, his people fought 18 separate battles against the pursuing American troops that numbered more than 2000 regular army men with an added number of militia. They were stopped just 40 miles from the Canadian border that would have provided their protection. Chief Joseph’s surrender speech, given after a five day siege near the Bear Paw Mountains, is a painful one to read. It includes the quote: “I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I will find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

The speech from which I quoted Chief Joseph in the poem was given in Washington, D.C. to lawmakers as an appeal for his people to be returned to their ancestral lands in Oregon as he had been promised upon his surrender. His people had been taken, against the terms promised, to a desolate, malaria-ridden reservation in Oklahoma where many of them died.

Chief Joseph and some of his followers were eventually moved to Washington Territory where this courageous, wise, peaceful man died from what his doctor termed “a broken heart”. He was labeled and is remembered by many whites as the “Red Napoleon”, an incredible misnomer.

In order to understand the passion behind and the importance of the DAPL peaceful protesting in North Dakota, I think it helps to understand our history of broken promises, ignored treaties, stolen lands, decimated resources and appalling reservation conditions that native people have faced since white people began moving into, destroying and taking control of Indigenous lands.

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in poetrynoDAPL & human rights. Bookmark the permalink.

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One for the Tree: Seasons

oxygen
needs respiration
and every part of you is covered
green
not
tight

GIVING

dead skin
needs exfoliation
and every part of you is covered
brown
not
sore

SOOTHING

blankets
are for protection
and every part of you is covered
white
not
dead

DREAMING

All life
needs rejuvenation
and every part of you is covered
green
not
born

WAKING

~

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in poetry & vers l’avant. Bookmark the permalink.

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Bulldozers, Biting Dogs and Pepper Spray: Brotherly Love, American Style

The fight is endless. Indian Nations have standing treaties with the United States Federal Government, protecting their lands and ancestral grounds and providing assurances for self-governance among other things. They are not subject to state law. Tell that to the states. For more than 100 years, the Indian Nations across America have been forced to fight costly legal battles on a multitude of fronts often against the states their reservations exist on.

Forcing a people to endlessly defend their treaty rights up to Federal Court saps funds that could otherwise be used to build desperately needed infrastructure, improved housing, education and basic human services in some of the poorest places in America. Instead of allowing them to use their resources to better ends, we force battles that put the children’s bread in the hands of lawyers.

The latest front in this ongoing war is the development of a pipeline from the Bakken Oil fields in North Dakota southeast to Illinois. Indian Nations have already successfully fought to keep this pipeline off their lands in Minnesota. Tribes in North and South Dakota are now taking up the fight to protect their treaty rights and precious resources. Impacting this case directly are environmental threats to the Missouri River, the only supply of water feeding the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. The original proposed route of the pipeline would have crossed the Missouri River 10 miles north of Bismark, the capital of the state of North Dakota. It was rejected on the grounds of potential threats to that area’s water supply. The current dig is occurring just one half mile from the Standing Rock Reservation. The hypocrisy is staggering. An oil spill here would devastate this group of people. The current dig also traverses ancestral burial grounds of the Sioux, threatening destruction of an area that has deep spiritual and archaeological significance.

If you take the time to watch the videos below and are put off by the protests, ask yourself what you would do if someone showed up threatening your property or resources with a bulldozer, biting dogs and pepper spray. These protests aim to stop work until the cases have a chance to be heard in Federal Court.

Unfortunately, the battle over the Dakota Pipeline is simply another of the myriad of variations of endlessly and pointlessly convoluted muck indigenous groups must trudge through to protect their rights and interests in America. The lawyers are happy. The children go hungry.

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in human rights & noDAPL. Bookmark the permalink.

~

partial restraining order against North Dakota pipeline issued 9/6/16

because calling in the National Guard is going to calm everyone down…(bitter sarcasm here)

Iowa landowner’s suing to block eminent domain seizure of their properties against the Dakota pipeline

Note: Thanks to Dermott Hayes for drawing my attention to this story. I’ll be updating this on Monday. A decision regarding this case is scheduled for later today (9/9/16) in Federal Court.

Meskonsing: Cutting the Skin of the Drum

 

If the torrents of our past atrocities will wash our eyes clean so that we see a clear path toward quenching the present fires, then let those realities rain down on our heads. I think, if we are to heal, they are the tears we must cry…

We arrived with smallpox-infested blankets and alcohol. We came for a fur trade to Europe that decimated animal populations, especially the buffalo west of the Mississippi River. We promised a degraded and suffering population protection of their native rights, if they would just sell their lands to our government. The Indian culture beat on drums topped with skins, and we learned how to cut them.

Wisconsin is the anglicized form of the French misspelling, Ouisconsin, of the original Algonquin name, Meskonsing. My state was once home to the Mississippian and Oneota peoples and the heartland of Effigy Mound Culture. When Europeans arrived in the 1500’s the Ojibwe (Chippewa), Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo and Pottawatomie tribes were flourishing. Travel around this state today will take you through communities like Milwaukee, Pewaukee, Oshkosh, Menomonee, Oconomowoc, Sheboygan, Manetowoc and Waukesha. The influence of the original inhabitants lingers.

Talk about racism in America often overlooks the horrible treatment of the diverse and rich cultures who called these lands home.

86% (Wisconsin Water Statistics) of Wisconsin is bordered by water. With Lake Superior to the North, Lake Michigan to the East and the Mississippi River running the western border, we are nearly an island; and this almost island contains more than 15,000 lakes and 82,0000 miles of streams and rivers. Fishing is important in Wisconsin.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s many violent clashes occurred in northern Wisconsin between white people and their Ojibwe neighbors. The issue was spearfishing, a culturally significant part of the Ojibwe history and livelihood – one that some white fishermen found threatening. The clashes often involved white protesters throwing rocks and bottles and shouting obscenities at the Ojibwe spearfishers but escalated to overturned boats and shootings of fishing Ojibwe.

Under two treaties, signed in 1837 and 1842, the Ojibwe transferred their entire Meskonsing homeland to the United States federal government. The still-standing treaties were conditional, guaranteeing the Ojibwe the right to hunt, fish and gather wild rice and maple sap on the vast lands they ceded. In 1854 the last treaty with the Minnesota Ojibwe was signed, and the U.S. federal government established permanent reservations for the Ojibwe bands in northern Wisconsin.

The state of Wisconsin believed that it had the right to regulate all hunting and fishing throughout the state and began curtailing those federally granted rights after 1854. In 1901 an Ojibwe, John Blackbird, was arrested and served 30 days hard labor for fishing on a part of Lake Superior connected to reservation lands. His court challenge began a battle that reached a violent peak in 1989, leading then governor Tommy Thompson to a rare personal appeal in federal court for an injunction against spearfishing in the state in order to stop further violence. The court rightly refused to do so on the grounds that the Ojibwe were doing nothing illegal.

Education and correct information are a start down a path toward peaceful coexistence. As it turns out, the Ojibwe intentionally harvest far fewer walleye than they are allowed and only a small fraction of the walleye caught by non-Indian sports fishermen each year. They also run their own fish hatcheries, adding far more fish to the lakes annually than they harvest through spearfishing.

Real equities of spirit and mind, of hope and opportunity, of dignity and respect escape us. If you watch the video below, you will learn the definition of a “timber nigger” and hear the term put into use. They are just words, right? To my ears, those words are devastating, because they signal loudly that brotherly love or even mere tolerance are far from the hearts of people; and those are heartbeats that disparity will always follow. Do you hear the drums beating? The Indian drums? How about the African drums? If we cut the skin, the drum can no longer be beaten. The sound of a culture disappears, leaving us only the monotonous resonating of our foolish pride. Spearfishing is just one in a long line of drum skins that need protecting, and there are many more in desperate need of renewal and repair.

The picture at the top of this post is taken from a vantage point where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers meet at my birth place of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin – a town born in the heart of the French fur trade. When I wander these lands dotted with the Effigy Mounds that testify to their rich, Indian heritage, my soul is stirred by the lingering spirit of my Indian brother in the beauty of a place whose wild waters will never allow it to be completely tamed, no matter how many drum skins the white man cuts.

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in human rights & history. Bookmark the permalink.

 

For more history, see: Spearfishing Controversy in Wisconsin provided by the Milwaukee Public Museum.

A clip from the documentary Lighting the 7th Fire about the spearfishing controversy in Wisconsin:

Ojibwe drummers outside the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison protesting mining bill AB 426 which threatened to destroy their ancestral lands: