Cherita #5

“Line 5” has corroded

snake oil flows
through aged pipelines

it slithers 12 miles
through Native land
pushing fossilized lies


Words and Photography ©2017 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in #noACP, #noDAPL, poetry & cherita. Bookmark the permalink.


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The St. Louis

On May 13, 1939, the ocean liner, St. Louis, sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. The Third Reich allowed more than 900 Jews aboard. We are counting now. When souls become quotas, numbers matter. The number was 937, most of them were German Jews. They carried what they thought were valid permits that guaranteed them temporary stay in the United States until proper visas could be granted.

The quotas…
The quotas!
The United States quotas were full.
The souls aboard the St. Louis had no clue.

The German-Austrian immigration quota for the United States allowed only 27,370 souls annually. The wait list for entry stretched for years, pages filled with longing names numbered. When souls become numbers filling quotas, what has humanity left to do but count? So we counted them. Number one got in. Number 27,371 did not. She received a free train ride out of Germany to a place called Auschwitz that reeked of smoke and shit and death, where she was given a new number. She died in a gas chamber and was burned to ash. We are counting now. She took her place among six million dead.

That was Europe, the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Louis safely reached Cuba, where 29 Jews were allowed to disembark. Cuba had immigration quotas too. We are counting now. 29 souls found a refuge. The ship was ordered out of the harbor in Havana. To be sure that number 30 didn’t sneak in, Cuban police boats followed the St. Louis. Several passengers attempted to commit suicide.

For three days, the St. Louis drifted off the coast of Miami, close enough to see that city’s sparkling lights. Pleas went out via cables from the ship. President Franklin D. Roosevelt never responded. The White House never responded. The State Department finally sent a telegram to the ship explaining plainly that the United States had immigration quotas in place and that the souls on board would have to apply for the proper visas and take their turn on the waiting list.

The quotas…
The quotas!
The United States quotas were full.
The souls aboard the St. Louis now understood.

How did we explain to men, women and children that they were nothing more than numbers in a quota-filling game? What words of comfort did we give? Were we present when many of them were torn from their families and piled like cattle into cargo holds after their bitter return to Europe? Did we travel with them sharing their terror as they were sent to concentration camps? Did we hold their trembling hands as their flesh rotted away from starvation? Did we hear their screams? Did we see them die? They each were given a number. We are counting now. They took their place among six million dead.

We laud a statue that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Were these not tempest-tossed? The lamp went dark, blown out by xenophobic winds.

We have recycled those winds today in the forms of quotas, restrictions, deportations, bans and walls. We fear.

Souls become numbers, leaving humanity with nothing left to do but count.


Words and Photography ©2017 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Entry posted in short stories. Bookmark the permalink.

North Dakota Republicans Want to Protect Drivers Who Hit DAPL Protesters*

Weary of protest ~ impatient, itching fingers ~ pen bills dressed to kill~ (My Haiku of Utter Dismay) Hopefully, ND lawmakers have more sense than this…

Hwaairfan's Blog

North Dakota Republicans Want to Protect Drivers Who Hit DAPL Protesters*

Pro-pipeline state lawmakers are proposing a rash of bills that will criminalize protests and put protesters lives in danger.

Water protectors in North Dakota may need to be more careful when crossing the street if a proposed bill to exempt drivers who “unintentionally” hit or kill pedestrians who are blocking traffic is passed.

Republican state lawmaker Keith Kempenich introduced legislation to make an exemption for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill pedestrians who are obstructing traffic on public roads.

“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian,” Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, told the Bismark Tribune.

Kempenich’s 72-year-old mother-in-law was blocked by a group of protests on a roadway and he admits the law specifically targets protesters.

It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their…

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With Reservation

“Words do not pay for my dead people.”

Shall we talk
awhile while we travel the miles
to a
you will be
graciously confined to
awhile while we hand out the piles
white man’s
graciously supplied

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

Yes, but you fled
showing great
against our


we require

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

Sure, just submit
to our

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
white man’s

“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.”


We’ve talked
while you traveled the miles
have now
forever (until we discover the next valuable resource we want need)
graciously subjected to

“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.”


“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.”


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


“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.



When peaceful, public prayers are halted by armed men;
the response, brothers, to my brothers was TOO HARD
with weapons
on a road
by tanks, drones, tear gas and rifles.

When calm vigil leads to arrests of twenty-one,
men, women and children are forced to run TOO HARD
down a road
Can you hear the children crying?

When “spirit riders” race their horses to front lines,
protecting people fleeing from men armed strongly
with weapons
on a road
felony charging is TOO HARD.


Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in human rights, noDAPL & poetry. Bookmark the permalink.


Note: While this is my opinion, I would remind all my readers that the persecutions one man receives for peacefully praying on a public access road or in a public area of any kind are easily forced upon others. Once we start burning books, history proves that there is no determining on which page we will stop.







If tears become letters and days turn to pages,
then how would you read his 30 days HARD labor
for fishing
on a lake
in size, depth, clarity and stock?

30 pages: no novel, just a long chapter.
What filled his kids’ bellies? Not fish that their dad caught
by fishing
on a lake
while he worked HARD in the chains.

30 eagles swoop down and catch fish with talons.
Carry them to high nests and fill eaglets’ bellies
through fishing
on a lake
Bites HARD: Birds eat while children starve.

Dedicated to the memory of John Blackbird, an Ojibwe arrested in 1901 for fishing with nets in Bear Trap Creek deep inside reservation lands that border Lake Superior, though some state histories record that he was arrested fishing on the lake. Either way, he was within his rights established through treaties with the U.S. Government.

He served 30 days HARD labor after refusing to pay a $36.75 fine. His case was eventually heard in U.S. Federal Court, the first challenge to a long battle in Wisconsin over the recognition of Indian Nation hunting and fishing rights established through treaty with the Federal Government. The Federal Court overturned the state decision in Blackbird’s favor in a ruling that honored negotiated rights with the Ojibwe Nation. The battle for the recognition of Native American treaty rights and the protection of their lands and resources continues to be fought across America today, eating up precious dollars that would be better utilized to improve the lives of these people in some of the poorest places in this country. Bites HARD.

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in poetry, noDAPL & human rights. Bookmark the permalink.


For background on the Dakota pipeline controversy, read: my post from 09/09/2016

Update: Late Friday afternoon, a Federal Court judge ruled against the Dakota tribes, allowing the bulldozing to continue. The Obama Administration quickly stepped in, blocking construction on the portions of the pipeline that cross federal lands, at least temporarily protecting the Missouri River where it enters the Standing Rock Reservation and ancient Sioux burial grounds in the area.

Bites HARD:


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: