Sunday, June 23, 2013

All My Relations

This afternoon I am watching the documentary Broken Rainbow, the story of the government-imposed forcible relocation, in the '70's, of half of the Navajo tribe, from Hopi lands where they had lived since antiquity. 

 "There is no word for relocation in the Navajo language," the narrator says. "To relocate is to disappear and never be seen again."

The ties to the land, of the Navajo and the Hopi tribes, are an intricate part of their culture. The land is sacred to them. Unlike the white man, accustomed to seeing land as an apparently limitless resource. 

Why the forced relocation? The usual reasons: white man's greed for the minerals and oil under the land. The radioactive waste left behind will remain on the reservation for 80,000 years. Meanwhile many of the people who worked in the mines are now dying of radiation poisoning. People who built their dwellings from the irradiated rocks are dying of cancer. Children are born with deformities at twice the national average. 

Between 1 and 3% in royalties were "awarded" for rights to extract from the land, but whoever receives them, the majority of the people on reserve live lives of abject poverty. Those relocated off the reservation fare even worse.

Beautiful people of the rainbow,
you hold sacred
the red lands
under your feet.
Your prayers rise up
in sacred fire
to the god of the mountains,
high, where the white bird flies.

Land of star-gazers,
you have attuned your heartbeat
to the rhythm of Mother Earth,
who sings to you.
To see through your eyes,
a people of peace,
is to see a world
in balance.

Your early chiefs drew
a blueprint of life
based on ancient ways.
You lived as caretakers 
of Mother Earth
for a thousand years. 
How you must weep
at the corporate blueprint,
which lays waste your homeland,
and then moves on,

Your hogan, you tell us,
itself confers a blessing.
"It wraps its arms around us
and says "you are home'."

"Washington says 'Move' "
the old woman weeps,
"and we must move,
away from our sheep,
who are better than money,
to a land of bills and costs,
when we have no way 
to make a living.
I cry for my sheep.
I ache for my homeland."

As a child of the '50's, 
I watched the Hollywood movies,
bugles blowing, flags waving, 
clapped as "the good guys" 
arrived on horseback.
For that, though I knew no better,
I am now
so ashamed.

Once I sat through a western
in an old theatre packed with
First Nations,
and listened to them guffawing
at Hollywood's version of history.

I was still young, then,
but recognized enough 
skewed storyline
to be embarrassed
inside my white skin.

Today we saved 
a baby starling,
fallen from its nest,
cheeping shrilly
with terror,
not yet able to fly.
We climbed up and
returned him to his nest.
Just one small
against all the injustice,
all the suffering and tears,
all the wrongdoing,
all the people displaced 
from their homelands
by those in power,
and by war,
and by corporate greed.

aside from caring,
it is all I can do,
and it is so far
from being
near enough.

For you are all
red rocks, white bird,
followers of the Red Road,
the dispossessed of Syria,
refugee camp dwellers of Palestine,
winter-hungry wolves and bears
and cougar
flushed from your vanishing habitat 
into our neighborhoods
and our waiting 
bylaw enforcement guns,
    you are all
All My Relations.


  1. OH this was very moving. We have similar stories here. It makes one despair.At the moment corporate greed is trying to destroy our Liverpool Plains and the rich black soil territory for mining. They will win and our food bowl will be decimated and we will eventually have to import food.All because of Greed. Great poem!

  2. I listened to a sermon today about the task that we must all embrace being one of sacrifice and service--and I sat there thinking--what is that without compassion and empathy. It seems that compassion and empathy are the major tasks that we must embrace--for all living beings---your piece makes me want to curl up and cry--but instead, I think we all have to do the next right thing--peace and hugs to you

  3. Sherry this touches a chord in my own heart. Greed has done so much evil. You have written a beautiful, moving piece.

  4. the injustices pile up... we call it history. Very moving.

  5. Such a sad part of history. I have always felt deep sorrow over what was done to the Native Americans, nothing short of genocide, all for the love of greed. Very moving, truthful piece, Sherry.

  6. yes we are...all connected...and when injustice happens to one it happens to all...what a powerful moment in that theatre with the first nation...and the next right thing...we make that decision moment by moment lest we believe the hollywood version, lest we contribute to the pain...

  7. Beautiful.description. I also feel that tribal people are closer to nature and live along wit hit, relocating them, from their own land is like cutting their heart.

  8. Very moving Sherry. The promises for such a relocation are seldom kept and they definitely aren't the same, anyway. Reminded of the movie Erin Brokovich!

  9. How beautifully you have recited a story of wreck and displacement of native people from their homeland...moving piece indeed.

  10. a deeply moving poem of utmost humanist commitment. you know, I recently read The Ecstasy of Rita Joe.gripping text and terribly tragic.your poem reminds me of that.

  11. Sherry this is gorgeous and incredibly moving I am actually watching a documentary now The Canary Effect. My grandmother is Cherokee and grew up on a reservation so it's quite personal for me

  12. Beautifully put. Sadly the history of the world has been one of trade creating economic systems (and attendant political power) which have room only for one way of doing things. It is no different today, and always marginalises - decimates - those who are different. Nothing will change until we realise how to whittle away at power politics and mix up economic systems so none become predominant.

  13. Sadness! More so with the govt's connivance playing a role, not its usual role but following the path of big money. In all such instances the poor and downtrodden get the brunt. Brilliant insight Sherry! Thanks for sharing!


  14. So neat that you were able to return the starling to his nest, Sherry. Without your help he would have died....I do like the idea of doing the next right thing. That is all that each of us can do.

  15. This is so true, and makes me cry. The Hopi people are indeed a lost tribe, torn apart. And there are others hurt by the choices and demands of others. This is something very and dear to my heart.

  16. nice - you have a much more loving approach - we are all relations!

  17. This is powerful, Sherry. I always like to see someone "tell it like it is," and you have spoken real truth here. The meaning and importance of what you did with the baby bird should not be discounted. A single act, accomplished with love, will ultimately be more powerful, when all is said and done, than all the greedy and selfish acts put together--because it is only love that moves us forward to greater understanding, and into a higher spiritual dimension.

  18. Your words, your voice in this piece echo resoundingly in my soul. Being of Eagle feathers and Indian blood heritage, Aztec/Toltec, I hear the cries of the Navajo in the Hopi Region where my ancestry once traveled.

    Now in that area above and beyond the ruiness hand of the interlopers, people of my heritage and my original indigenous nation are with fear to walk in the land of their fathers because of the bifurcation and polarization by ideologs of certain segments based on prejudice and unwarranted claim to the land.

    As you can see, mi amiga, I'm quite soulfully attached to this issue.

  19. This is so heartbreaking. I like the shred of hope you offer at the end. Saving one little animal can't make up for al the injustice, but sometimes that's all we can do to put a bandaid on such a big hurt.

  20. This made me ache deeply, Sherry. Thank you for your depth and sensitivity.


  21. We are all relations! YES :D Imagine if everyone realized that! xx

  22. I feel so sad for these people/tribes ~ Lovely meaning Sherry ~

  23. Sherry, you really stopped me in my tracks with this piece. Your words ache and my heart followed.

  24. you wrote about a tribe you know of so well, and you write with words and a rhythm that shows your intimate relationship with these people and history. then when you expand it to others who are suffering injustices, i mean, you made me tremble a little with emotion as i reached the end. this sings.


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