A Request for Help from Italy

Mrs Harjo,

the Lega Nord
an extreme right Italian political party is using
your history, Native American's massacres
for their political campaign


They are comparing the immigration of African and Estern Europe peoples
into Italy to the White invasion in your land...

"They had no rules against immigration, now they are living in reservations"

Apart from the fact, that this comparison is a shame (worse than a shame),
do you think this abuse is legal?
Can they use/abuse your history for a distorted proposal?

Are there any Native American groups in Italy
who can protest against this abuse?

For sure, it's not my thing,
and I beg you pardon, if I have somehow
touched your history
or abused your sensibility with this email.

It's just an instictive reaction and a kind of pain.

We have such stupid politicians,
who dare telling every kind of false things even about our history.

I beg you pardon for our stupid politicians

my best regards



Slamming, (and I don't mean poetry)

I just opened my mail to a note from one of my friends, a fine poet. She was flying high from a recent gig back East. Then she happened upon a couple of blogs about the event. In both, her reading style was ridiculed, and she is devastated. 

I told her that in my experience, many use their blogs to affect a smug, erudite literary pose.  They want to make themselves look smart because there is always someone smarter than they are, to impress.  They are still in an adolescent mode. 

Once, after performing at a poetry festival in Ojai with a drummer/singer I accidentally came upon a blog like those described above. The blogger spoke through her nose (yes, I could see her indignant nose hairs) and said my performance was ridiculous and made her laugh. According to her I had written and performed only one "real" poem. Okay...she's entitled to her opinion. And, like my friend, I was devastated, for a few minutes, then I got angry. And I'm ashamed to say, I gave in, and wrote to her (something you should never do...let them stew in their own nastiness). I questioned her purpose. I asked her how she would feel if she came upon the same description about herself. When she wrote back a bewildered note, I realized I wasn't a person to her. I let it go. As I write this I remember that I don't even remember her name. And I learned to wait a day at least when hearing or reading anything upsetting before taking action. It takes at least one revolution of the sun at least to help bring clarity before action, unless you're on the battlefield, then it's one revolution of a heartbeat, or less. 

These blogs remind me of "slam" books. (This isn't the same as "poetry slam".)Women of my generation will remember the notebooks that were sent around the classroom the same direction as the note circuit. (This was junior high, for me.) I was an energetic note writer and cartoon maker. There was a page for each student. Each of us wrote comments. Most were complimentary,  like "cool", "sweet girl", "friend forever". Others "slammed" the reputation of the student. The comments could be devastating. And why? Why does anyone "slam" anyone else? Because of difference, uniqueness, jealousy, envy, insecurity and so on and so on, all the human social ills that appear not to have been touched by the "development" of the so-called "highest civilization"called the Western world. Meanness is meanness, even if it's dressed in ruffled and silk words.

What I've noticed is that educational decrees don't necessarily connote wisdom. The ability to spout back terms, theories, historical and scientific facts doesn't make one wise, or a poet. I've seen this over and over in my years of teaching and being a poet. A heavy intellect with no heart can translate as massacres, loneliness, warped relationships. The heart,too, needs the  rudder of the mind.

So, I told my friend. Stay strong and don't give anymore of your attention to assholes. Their words reflect their own poor spirits. 

And go write your own blog!


Blown Away by Poet Jennifer Bartlett

Tonight I left my stack and horn and crossed the street to hear a reading at Bookworks. I was sorry I could only stay for the opening. The lineup was Jennifer Barlett, Miriam Sagan, Erica Wurth and V.B.Price.  Jennifer Bartlett was first up and as she read all the angst and sadness fell away. We were poetry. We flew. This is why we are here, to make wings of that which has destroyed us.

Here are is a poem from her 2007 release DERIVATIVE OF THE MOVING IMAGE, from the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series at UNM Press. Congratulations Jennifer, AND UNM Press.

"From a Paris Hotel Room"

"It was the spring after my sister died that I began to notice
the moths. They would follow me from room to room beating
against the window shades or showing themselves in the one
tiny patch of light as I dressed for the day.  Some days, some
hours, I would count as many as twenty and still they held no
significance for me. I saw them as many see the trees that line
the highway, just passing objects.

One afternoon when the rains came I let the girls take off all
their clothes and run naked in the yard while I dance around 
them in my blue nanny dress. I don't know why I did that.  That 
night the moths were so large that they woke me like a burglar
might. I put bowls of sugar around the house to keep them 
from the books.

Occasionally, the elder of the two girls will touch my arm and
speak of my sister as if she remembers her. She tells me that
my sister is dead.

Then the moths.  They like to linger in hot places like the roof 
of the car.  The smaller ones cling to my hands as I water the
garden in the morning. When I ask others if they notice the
creatures with the same consistency most deny it or act as
though it is ordinary.  The few that show an interest describe
them as hideous monsters. I argue them to be more beautiful
than butterflies."

Jennifer Bartlett

P.S. She is a University of New Mexico graduate.


This morning early I headed out with the Sun to go visit a teacher. She's been a teacher of mine for years, though neither she or I would necessarily couch the relationship in those terms. 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 spirit, and the uniqueness of others. She's a hard worker. I have seen her help strangers as well as family. She does so without question, and always does anything to the best of her ability. 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 human being. 

We are all teachers to each other. 

Unfortunately, some who teach, or call themselves teachers have forgotten why they are here, the nature of their calling, and the responsibility of their position. 

Be wary of anyone who puts themselves above all other teachers. They do not listen, and will not listen to you.
Be wary of anyone who assures you that theirs is the only way, who tells you they are the coolest, the smartest, the best.  They will do anything to get their way.
Be wary of anyone who makes fun of others inside or outside the classroom.  They do not respect themselves.
Be wary of anyone who seeks to separate you from the community, to make their own privileged inside circle of admirers. They do not love themselves and cannot love anyone else.
Be wary of anyone who attempts to  lure you with praise, promises of perks and thrills.  Everything has a cost.

Your experiences are your teachers. And even our most misguided teachers can ironically be the most important teachers.

Most of all, pay attention to that wise teacher who is within you, within all of us.  That wise one will always lead you in the right direction, and that direction is always towards some form of compassion. 


Evening Song

We failed a little.
Dip the wound in water.
Wrap it in a song.
Climb into the canoe.
Paddle out from the weeping.
Let the failing fail.
Let the stars bear trouble.
Let the canoe carry.
What we cannot bury.

c Joy Harjo


Australian Aboriginal Films on a Thursday Night, and Rain

Thursday night in Honolulu. Just returned from viewing a series of film shorts by Australian aboriginal filmmakers, presented by the Maori filmmaker, Merata Mita. The topics range from an aunty and mother being busted by a daughter for a very unusual money making venture, to a campy and delightful scene in which racism is turned upside down in a grocery store, to my favorite, a short called "Nana", a tribute by a girl of about seven or eight years old about her Nana. What was striking about these series of shorts is that the filmmakers aren't bound by a stratified sense of aesthetics. Filmmaking after all is about storytelling, and about the image. 

It's raining. Late. And I am working on a song. A gecko chirps. Like crickets, they speak rain language.


Reading in Honolulu to Celebrate Mahealani Wendt's new book

The celebration of Uluhaimalama is:

Saturday, March 15
5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
U.H. Art Auditorium
(across Kuykendall Hall)

Mahealani will be joined by Albert Wendt, Imaikalani Kalahele, Vicky Kneubuhl, and me, along with editors Ku`ualoha Ho`omanawaui and Brandy McDougal.


MNN Column for February 2008 (unedited version)

I took a jump-hop flight to Hilo, Hawaii last week to catch a workshop on lomilomi (Hawaiian massage) and healing plants, and to attend a reading and workshop by two writers from Alaska. As soon as I landed I called Mililani Trask, the brilliant Hawaiian attorney and activist. I hadn’t seen Mil in a few years, so I was surprised when I reached her and found out that a native contingent from the Mainland, led by Winona LaDuke, the Anishnabe activist, was speaking that night in Hilo on protecting our food from genetic engineering, and Mil was going to introduce Winona. So I cut out on the reading to go hear what was going on, and to see Mililani who I hadn’t seen in years. I respect her. She has literally given her life to the native community in service. When she ran for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs several years ago, there were posters all throughout the islands in support of Mililani. She won by a landslide. No one has ever won office with that large a majority. The community can be contentious and divided, like ours, despite the aloha philosophy which is the base of their original teachings. I admire much about Mil. She worked in Calcutta, India with Mother Teresa to learn compassion. She has experienced, like the rest of us, that the hardest test of compassion is working with your own people. The Hawaiian community, like our own, too often chokes up with jealousy, self-doubt and shame.
The meeting room in the Buddhist temple filled with community, a mix of Hawaiian, Asian, local liberal political types, and hippies. One side of the room was lined with tables sponsored by various local organizations. I went over to watch a Hawaiian man pound poi. Poi is made of taro root, or I should say kalo, the Hawaiian word, which is the food staple of Hawaiians. It reminds me of our sofkey. It is a starch, without much strong taste, unless you let it sour. Some Hawaiians love sour poi as much as some of our people love sour sofkey. I watched as he took a root, put it in the lava stone bed, flattened and kneaded it with a poi pounder. It turned into a kind of purple pudding. He let us taste it. Traditionally, you use your middle finger to dip in and eat. I could taste the rich complexity of the earth, the sky, and the love that this man put into growing taro. He had talked and sung to his plants.
(Have you ever contrasted the taste of home grown food with food grown by underpaid workers, by multinational corporations who are only thinking of money?)
Luana Busby-Neff opened the program with an oli wehe, a chant. Her voice is blessed. The spirit in her voice turned us together to listen, to be together.
The first speaker turned out to be the poi farmer I had just been speaking to, James Cain. He opened with a song to honor a taro farmer, Uncle Ray who had just passed from this life. He was in his seventies, a humble man who taught James all about the taro. Uncle Ray told him: “Think about things in a positive way.” This sounds very familiar to Mvskoke philosophy.
“Taro goes back 30,000 years. You find it in New Guinea, India, Africa, the Carribbean... Taro is family. Taro doesn’t just feed the body. It feeds the mind. It teaches you patience. It teaches you respect, respect for ancestors…elders…and respect for the land…it feeds the spirit.”
He joked “We’re taro-ists! We’re pushing for a ban on genetic engineering.
Who has the right to control life forms? The scientists protest that it is their academic freedom, to do what they want. What about academic responsibility?
For the Hawaiians, taro (or kalo) is literally our elder brother...”
James is a beautiful and humble man, like his teacher Uncle Ray.
Next Mililani introduced Winona. In her introduction Mil pointed out that pharmaceutical companies are claiming private ownership of life itself. “What we are dealing here with rice, taro and corn is bio-piracy….the purity of our food is part of cultural sovereignty... “ Then Mil was gone. She had an international flight to catch the next morning. She’d switched flights so she could properly introduce Winona.
Winona LaDuke has been at the forefront of developing economic sustainability for her tribe, and of movements for integrity of our cultures. For her people’s culture and life, it’s wild rice.
“Wild rice” she said, “…is one of our most significant relatives.” Their connection goes way back. Her people originally lived on the Eastern Seaboard, their ancestors followed the prophets who said that it was best they move because there was going to be a drastic change and the east and they’d no longer be able to sustain themselves there. They followed a shell in the sky to where “food grew on the water”. That was the wild rice. They continue to recognize the gift. Recently when Thai farmers came and saw that the rice grew without cultivation, they cried at such a gift, for they work hard planting and cultivating rice.
Wild rice sustains them in body, soul and mind. It is also a way to sustain the Anishnabe people economically. They’ve struggled with corporations who wish to patent the DNA and steal the rice for cultivation, for money. They want to own the idea, spirit and body of rice. Right now three-fourths of the wild rice is grown in paddies in California. One of the largest is a company called “Indian Harvest” which is ironically owned by the Dutch Trading Company.
Corn was one of the first of our native plants to be patented.
She reminded us that the people and their rice are fighting to live with dignity.
She and others are working on a federal law to force the growers to label their product “cultivated”. “This is a fair trade and justice issue” she said. In 2000 the University of Minnesota cracked the DNA sequence for wild rice. Now they want to patent it. Ultimately that would mean that the Anishnabe would no longer have the right to harvest their rice, without paying royalties to the corporate patent owners!
Louie Hena from Tesuque people spoke of connection, the spiral of life, and how all of us are persons with rights, from corn to animals to plants. Paula Garcia from the New Mexico spoke of the protection of water as a community resource, and Andrea Hanks, Ojibwe and Dine works on legislation protecting wild rice.
As I listened I kept moving outwards into a larger and larger perspective, even as I moved inward, much like the spiral Louie talked about so eloquently. As I traveled the individual human and plant were linked. The farther-closer I moved the human and plant merged. The individual members of the tribe became one, then eventually, we are altogether as one body.
Something to think about: what we ingest, in food, thoughts, vision either serves us or hurts us.

Joy Harjo January 19, 2008 Honolulu

Simon Ortiz reading with his Daughters (Rainy is my daughter)


On the Road, Or Trying to Be On the Road in Icy Dallas

It's early morning in a hotel in Dallas, somewhere near the "High Five" interstate exchange, "the largest of it's kind in the world" as the driver of the Checker Cab van from India told us last night. This wasn't my plan. I was picked up by Jackie yesterday morning in Naperville, IL, a suburb west of Chicago. I performed at College of Dupage the night before to a warm audience. The audience usually mirrors the intentions of the organizers, whether they are large or small. We flew a little together, though there was no dramatic lighting, or delay or other effects from the sound system. Jackie let me off at O'Hare, in bright sunshine. I worked on the plane from Chicago and as we got closer to DFW we got a grim weather report. Funny I usually check the Chicago weather report, but don't worry too much about Dallas. I've run through Chicago to catch flights more than any other airport, and one of my runs would have placed in the Airport-Dash Event in the Airline Passenger Olympics. I ran from the extremes of Concourse L to Concourse G with a saxophone on my bag and a backpack.

We landed in Dallas to snow! The airport literally came to a stop in weather that would have been considered relatively minor in Chicago. We sat out on the tarmac for over an hour. In that time an inch of snow fell. Then moved to another spot closer to the terminal. Then we had a gate. I was trying to get to Albuquerque. And I had a flight scheduled out from Albuquerque the next morning for Hawaii, via DFW! I looked at the board. The Albuquerque flight was cancelled, in fact, most flights were cancelled. I looked next for any flight going west and found a San Francisco bound flight. I took the train to that gate and found huge lines in line to board AND to get on the flight! Then became my struggle (and thousands of others) to find a way out. I stood in a line for over two hours to get a flight. During that time all flights were cancelled, though the snow had stopped. I made the decision to cancel my return to Albuquerque and go straight to Honolulu. The airline personnel gave me a card for a "Distressed Passenger Rate" at an area hotel and I called and got a reservation. Relieved, with a plan in hand, I walked toward the exit, thinking, now I'll waltz out and get a taxi and be in a warm room and sleep. I haven't slept much in the last few days. I waltzed out, as did the few hundred people who waited in the unusual biting cold. I played the "it could be worse" game. It could be 300 people. We could be surrounded by monsters, etc etc. People were warm and friendly. Someone passed around their Hawaii tourist snacks they had brought with them from their fresh vacation. We doubled and tripled up in taxis.

I had no problem sleeping. It was quiet and I was exhausted. Then at 2AM the alarm blasted. I turned it off. I stunned me at 4PM. I turned it off again, though my wise self said, "pull the plug". Nah, this should do it. At 5:30AM it went off again!! I pulled the plug, then gave up. Turned on the weather report.

Now I have my boarding pass for Honolulu, my bag is going to Albuquerque, and I hope I have all that I need on me for the next few weeks. Over two thousand people spent the night in the airport. Last night as I walked through the airport I heard a man telling another in the bar that he was spending the night there. Must have been some party. The problem with those parties is that there is a universal law in the realm of dualities that states: a high will be accompanied by a low. I kept my eyes open for Alfred Berryhill. The last time I was stuck in the airport we had a good time visiting.

And yes, India. I have been holding India in my heart, in the pace beyond words. Yet, there are words. And these words right now are beyond temporal time. See my next Muscogee Nation News column.

Most poetry for me, digs around in the "beyond temporal time" realm.

We'll see what happens.


Harjo Performance, Wed.Night College of DuPage

College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. In fact, feel free to link to our little site at http://www.cod.edu/events%5F1/womhist/events.htm. It has information and from there, folks can find maps to the school and of the parking lots. And there are contact phone numbers on the site for folks to call if they need more info.

It’s free and open to the public. It’s in room SRC 2800, also known as the Jack Turner Conference Center in the Student Resource Center. It starts at 7:30pm.