Muscogee Nation News April Column 2007: We Are All Teachers

(Because of the nature of culminating events involving abuse of power by teachers, in my personal and academic life, I've decided to post this column a month ahead of time.)

We have many teachers in this life. Some are human, some animal, plant, and others who are part of our experience. Some are physical; some not. Our first teachers are our parents. They shape our minds, direct the entrance to this life. A kind word or nod can literally shift the direction of a day; even remake the path of a life. Many times I have heard how a teacher stepped in when no one else heard, and gave exactly what was needed.

One teacher of mine wouldn’t necessarily think of herself that way. From her I have learned a reverence for the earth as a being, for the water, a reverence for reverence. I have learned about paying respect for the gifts of the spirit. I have learned to accept the uniqueness of my own experience, and the uniqueness of others. I have seen her help strangers as well as family. Many homeless Indian men used to stop at her shop because they knew she’d give them food, talk to them as human beings. She is kind to all without question, and always does anything to the best of her ability. She's a hard worker. She would not want me to post her name here and would be embarrassed if she knew I was talking about her. She's a true teacher.

A cruel word or misdeed by a teacher can cut off the circulation to a part of the spirit. A singing child might never sing again. A young artist might turn their back on their finest gift. (I was once that child.) Gifts are like children. They come to us or through us, and they need to be nurtured. Still, they don’t belong to us. Gifts are there to be given back to the people.

There was once a man of our people who I admired. I looked up to him. He had been given many gifts. The knowledge of the ancestors had been passed down to him. I wanted to learn from him as I do from any of our elders I seek out. All of us eventually become the last generation and we have to pass on what we know so it can grow. He had something he was given to teach all of us. Instead he betrayed my trust by a disrespectful act. I was devastated, angry, and then sad. Then I realized that the truth of his character had been speaking to me all along and I hadn’t wanted to listen. I saw what I wanted to see, not the man as he really was.

Sometimes the wisest teachers come from within us. We can get so caught up in the surface running-around mind that we can forget to listen to and to trust the wise teacher who lives within each and every one of us. That wise one will always lead you in the right direction. It will always tell you the truth of the matter. It will tell you which direction to walk, and which direction to walk away from….and it always speaks and guides in a compassionate manner. (And how many times have we disregarded that teacher?)

Don’t forget this when you speak to your children, your parents, your friends and relatives, even your enemies. Don’t forget as you step out into your day or lay your head down at the end of the day. We are all teachers to each other.

c Joy Harjo March 31, 2008 Albuquerque


eka said...

Joy, I wish to know how, how you came to know and nurture yourself as an artist, after having been misguided, after turning your back on our finest gifts? Anything you offer is greatly appreciated. I am sure you are quite busy.
Much thanks and respect. I hope you can come to the bay area, cali soon.

always learning,

Joy said...

Eka, Now that's a long story. Mostly it comes from learning to listen to the compassionate and honest voice. That voice, or communication is in the natural world, in the being of our art.

I'll be at Stanford May 14.

Thanks for writing.


arrow7 said...

Everyone we meet on this journey is our guide, our teacher, our healer...on our way to becoming human.

DeAnna said...

I was first introduced to your works last semester in a Native American Woman Writers capstone I took at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. I just wanted to say that I was extremely moved by your spirit and passion, which are evident in both your works of short story and poetry. This semester I have the honor of presenting to my American Literature class an author I feel should be taught in all schools, and so I chose you. I hope I am able to do your works justice. As a future English teacher I am strongly dedicated to bringing Native voices into my classroom. Thank you for writing from the heart! Best Regards,

Becky said...

you were a teacher to me for a week at an OU conference. i have never forgotten how you honored our undergraduate words and the time in that class.

jill bascome said...

Greetings Ms. Harjo,
I am writing you from Bermuda a small island in the middle of the atlantic. I am native of this country although native is basically now a mix of African, Scottish/English and yes native american. Why? Because the history of this island is closely tied to Virginia, Massachusettes, South Carolina and there are those of us who are descendents of that time. I am one of the few Bermudians left who can claim that. Our ideal location, strong infrastructure etc. etc. has made us attractive to corporate american who want to hide their money, and have their playground and change everything to their liking, while we sleep in cars (rent is $2000/month for 1 bedroom) and on the beaches in the summer. They take away our children because we have to hold two and three jobs and so we are "neglecting" them. Since Hong Kong went back to China, we have now become an island city and we (natives) are losing our souls. I said all that to ask you something that you may be able to help me with. Something is happening to me. It feels like my people are hearing my thoughts, like I am able to communicate without words, and they hear me. Its done through the music but I play no instrument. There is another who hears it and he plays the tune. I have been an "activist" (don't like that word too much) in the country for a long time and I am very sensitive to my folks. Please don't think I'm crazy, but it was that that led me to you. I think it is a phenomenon not unknown to native people all over the world. But has been suppressed. But if the truth is the truth, wouldn't a new generation of natives be able to see/hear it too? I sincerely seek your wisdom, teachings, so I know I am not going crazy.

Joy said...

I always remember hearing how Bermuda figured into our tribal fight for independence from the overrunning American forces in the 1800's. Our "trade" routes (roots) (trade isn't just goods, includes ideas, songs, stories, dances, food, dreams) extended into the South, including the Carribbean and Mexico, South America as well as the North. Not much different than now, in some ways.
You're not crazy, not at all. You're remembering who to really listen. We've been taught to listen on one frequency, the same frequency as tv. What I see is that one day we will all remember how to listen and know in this way. It's basically human, something we've forgotten.
Please feel free to write me at mekkopoet@earthlink.net.