I resigned from my University of New Mexico position a few months ago. Around the same time as my resignation I released a new album of music WINDING THROUGH THE MILKY WAY. Funny how much attention I've received over the resignation. Many have emailed or called, in solidarity, and wanting to know the story. As for the music, the CD is making it's way, huffing and puffing over the boulders of the native music police who kicked the CD out of the Grammy native category. Apparently I don't have enough native flute or powwow for it to qualify. Hey, the Creeks were there when jazz was invented!! And, by the way, the album has more then the required percentage to qualify as a native album, including flutes, Mvskoke language, etc. I guess there's sort of a blood quantum thing going on here for music,too..

(You can buy it NOW for Christmas on Paypal. I'll even send it Priority Mail and sign!)

Goes to show you however, how much we humans are drawn to controversy, to flashy story. Must have sex, betrayal, and people we know, or think we know and a peaks of highs and lows. Alexie knows this. It's an element of his success.

And almost to the day of my resignation I got word that I had been chosen for a Rasmuson USA Artists Fellowship. What a gift! It will help me live for a year, without university pay. And will help fund a writing/music workshop for Mvskoke students next spring or summer. At the same time, I was turned down for three proposals, including one I sent in to a national native organization. One of the reasons I was rejected was because my creative work, the panel decided, "was not the highest artistic quality" (This particular note is for the friend who was surprised I got rejected for anything. Yes, I have and do. As I've said, after I've been introduced by a long list of accolades, that my list of failures is much much longer.)

Because I keep getting inquiries, here's my version of what happened: a UNM female creative writing poetry professor colleague (not Diane Thiel) was discovered selling phone sex on a website with female students, all in s and m undress, complete with accoutrements and accompanying demeaning dominatrix language. She denied there was a site and proceeded to attack the creative writing program director for slander. The site in question was uncovered in internet archives after it had been quickly taken down. The university legal counsel came to the conclusion that all involved were consenting adults, even though the students were taking classes from the professor at the time of the interactions. The investigation became a castigation of the creative writing director whose credentials and contributions to the university were stellar. Most of the creative writing faculty and many of the English Department were surprised and stunned at the turn of events. Our concerns for the students were not addressed. The sex site was actually only a small part of the problem. We took the case, level by level, up the ladder of the university hierarchy to get the situation evaluated by the faculty ethics committee. We were refused, despite the many policies in place to address the behavior. We were then called "troublemakers" and those of us most outspoken suffered direct retaliation. The creative writing program director was forced from her position. Against a majority vote the then then department chair appointed someone, against our collective will to direct the program. At the beginning of fall 2008 the President of the university basically cleared the faculty member for teaching. There was no reprimand. We were told we had to continue to work with her. I hear that the poetry professor is quite proud of her "win".

I travel all over the country and I am contacted by many students who want to come and study with me and others of the mostly fine faculty in the writing program at UNM. I could no longer recommend the creative writing program. It was painful to come to this conclusion. I loved the program and my students. I had to walk away.

So there it is. All parties weren't served. Nothing was put to rest. And because there are complex reasons and forces behind everything, I chose to think that I needed to leave, so that I could turn my full attention to my creative work.

And I'm working to get the CD out there. I need a radio station in every state who will interview me and play the album. The last interview was with KAOS Radio at Evergreen College in Washington State. Please email me with any suggestions. Many of the songs will be in my one woman show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, that opens in March at the Well Fargo Theater in L.A..

Come and see me there! And don't be shy. Come up and say hello. It matters.


In Barrow in April 1984

In one of my favorite places in the world, Barrow, Alaska 1984


Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me came about because of the community story of the mishandling of sacred objects. In Hawaii we all read or heard about the story, or knew someone who knew someone who was related to so and so…. In Indian country we call it the “Moccasin Telegraph”. Here it’s called the “Coconut Wireless.” The story also made its way into larger indigenous circles and circulated through the world press. That how it became part of us. And how it was handled effected and continues to affect each of us here. Who do the “objects” belong to? Who has authority? Do they belong in a museum? Or must they be turned to a cave that may or may not have been the place in which they originally lived? And who is the final authority? There’s more to this complex story that we may never know or understand.

This conflict became the spark for the exploration of the story. That the Maori writer Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider story was brought successfully to the screen was also a major catalyst for Lurline. She began to consider the creation of a Hawaiian story with the power to heal. She asked me to collaborate in writing the screenplay and we set off on our journey with prayers, and the help of many around us both seen and unseen. Though this is a particularly Hawaiian story, the issues, characters, and sensibilities are similar to indigenous people all over the world. Lurline then took the screenplay and made the beautiful novel, Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me.

Most of what we do in this life, as individuals and organizations are not of us, but through us. Each of us, community and being, is a small part of a web of ancestral thoughts, beings, and knowing. This living being is always shifting according to our acts, thoughts and dreams. It is us. Western educations and religions have taught us that we are omnipotent rulers, given dominion over the earth and waters. Our indigenous educations, (and ultimately we are all indigenous for we can each trace our lineages back to a time and place when we remembered the original teachings in which we are related), remind us that everything is alive and of consequence. This conflict of understanding is at the root of Lurline’s novel Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me. It’s what drove Whale Rider, and perhaps is driving the fate of human beings in these times of cumulative destruction of our natural world. We, of this time and place, must make beautiful and diligent sense of all of it, for surely colonization has taken us away from ourselves so we could learn to see and know ourselves with absolute clarity.

Stories are alive and have the power to create bright openings into a larger, sacred sense, or destroy by wiping out peoples, languages and other ways of knowing. As the only indigenous person to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, Scott Momaday, of the Kiowa People of Oklahoma has spoken of the power of words, how they are alive, to speak is to call into being, to interact with power in the world. He says: “Words were medicine; they were magic and invisible. They came from nothing into sound and meaning. They were beyond price; they could neither be bought nor sold….”

Now the story called Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me is making its way into the world, and like any human creation it bears strengths and weaknesses. The story has come together through the efforts of many (many in this room). Mahalo Lurline for bearing this story into this time and place. May it continue its journey with aloha, or as my people say: vnvketckv. May we continue together beautifully in this world.

No Huli (in F)

We failed a little
Dip the wound in water
Wrap it in a song
Climb into the canoe

And paddle out from the weeping
Let the failing fail
Let the stars bear trouble
Let the canoe carry
What we cannot bury.


No huli!



This morning when we left the house it was dark. We wound down the hill, Diamondhead direction to Hui Nalu Canoe Club at Maunalua Bay on the other side of the island. I’ve been on the road with intermittent landings in New Mexico, nowhere near warm seas. It was to be my first time paddling in months. We have a number of paddlers for a 7AM Sunday morning paddle, several canoes worth. I’m happy to be in Jeff’s canoe. He’s one of the best at surfing currents. After our New Year’s Eve debacle about six years ago, we are not allowed to surf in the six-man canoes; still, steering involves the agility and body/ocean knowledge to ride whatever is out there. We go out past the blinker buoy the water turned turquoise and clear. Beautiful. And because it’s relatively flat we keep going straight out past the point to the deep blue. Those waters are ultramarine.

(I look up “ultramarine” in the Compact Oxford English Dicitionary and discover that “ultramarine” means “1 a brilliant deep blue pigment originally obtained from lapis lazuli. 2. A brilliant deep blue color.—ORIGIN from obsolete Italian azzurro oltramarino ‘azure from overseas’ (because the lapis lazuli was imported) from Latin ultramarinus ‘beyond the sea’.)

Yes. It’s ultramarine. And deep.

Then we turn toward Diamondhead and ride the blue. When we turn back we race. This means picking up the time and intensity of the stroke, and focusing. Focusing means to look ahead, so that your vision places your canoe ahead of the rest.

I am in seat two behind an inexperienced stroker. I notice that when we can hear the competition coming up alongside (we hear the person calling the stroke changes in seat three) she turns. When she turns her stroke deteriorates. When the stroke deteriorates, everyone else’s stroke suffers, because we follow her lead. I also notice that when she looks anywhere besides directly ahead the canoe falters. I deliberate whether to say anything or not because I am not the steersman, the person in seat six, who directs the canoe. Then, because we’re falling back, I do.

“Focus! Look straight ahead. Your eyes carry energy. You are the canoe’s eyes.”

It’s almost magic the way the canoe responds.

And this becomes a lesson for me, something the stroker and the spirit of the canoe is teaching me. Our attention literally goes in the direction we look or spend our time.

And p.s. and/or by the way, when we near the blinker buoy we stop to enjoy a pod of dolphins. They leap and arc in and above the water.


December 7, 2008


Muscogee Nation News Column November 2008

Last Thursday I flew into Columbia, South Carolina. As a Mvskoke person from Oklahoma, returning East is always going home. When I stepped out onto the earth the mist of breath was thick with medicine plants. The trails of our peoples go back and forth through the South. The towns, rivers and other places still have our names. The indigenous people are everywhere in the spirit of the place, yet there isn’t the tangible physical presence of Indian people as there is in Oklahoma, or Florida. The Catawba is the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina, with at least ten tribes or groups who have received or are in process of receiving recognition from the state. I met Cherokee storyteller, photographer and cultural ambassador Will Moreau Goins for lunch the day after I arrived. He reminded me that we met years ago in Nebraska when we worked together on a narrative film project for the Omaha people; we gave Wes Studi his first film job. Will caught me up on what is going on in Indian Country in South Carolina. The story is familiar: diabetes, tribal politics, state politics, the politics of black and white, and just trying to make it…Later I got to meet Monty Branham, a fine Catawba potter, and his wife, and saw a display of some of his fine pottery. All made me feel at home. That is the best gift you can give any traveler. Mvto.

An elder friend of mine from a local pueblo is heading up a campaign to include tribal members of quarter blood as tribal members. “If this isn’t done, then in a few years there will be no more pueblo, and the U.S. government will have accomplished what they set out to do long ago when they instituted racist blood quantum rules”, she told me. How can we deny our children their place, refuse them a home? When we base our tribal identity on blood quantum then we have truly been colonized. We don’t need the BIA anymore. We can do the job ourselves. Who are we really as tribal nations? Is it skin color that makes a Mvskoke citizen? Or is it language? Identification with the land? Being a known member of the community (whether that community be in Oklahoma or California?) Do we maintain tribal grounds or tribal church membership? When do our grandchildren cease to be our grandchildren? Think about it: U.S. policies of eradication of Indian identity have roots in the same ideas of racial purity that motivated the Nazis. Is this who we want to become? I have received many emails about this issue, more on this issue than anything else I have written about in this column.

And further South on October 14th in the Cauca Valley in Columbia the government of Columbia moved against native demonstrators who want the government to set aside more land for Colombia’s 1.3 million Indians, and to provide more money for better education and healthcare. They demonstrated to ask the government to prevent corporations and multinational companies from encroaching on their land. The government responded by killing five peaceful protestors. Many more have been injured, my friend, the Columbian native poet Fredy Chicangana has been giving me updates via email. Now you know. And what do we do with all of this knowing?

I’ll never forget the striking Bolivian Indian woman who stood up once during an historic meeting of indigenous peoples from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego in 1990 outside of Quito, Ecuador. After welcoming everyone she said, “This hemisphere is one body, one soul.” If we truly understood and believed these wise words, all of us, there would be no killing, no diabetes, no internal or legalized racism. Think about the true feast we could hold to honor the eradication of ignorance and misunderstandings! Now that would be a Thanksgiving.

October 28, 2008 Albuquerque