Joy Harjo on the Diverse, Groundbreaking World of Indigenous Poetry | Literary Hub

We begin with the land. We emerge from the earth of our mother, and our bodies will be returned to earth. We are the land. We cannot own it, no matter any proclamation by paper state. We are literally the land, a planet. Our spirits inhabit this place. We are not the only ones. We are creators of this place with each other. We mark our existence with our creations. It is poetry that holds the songs of becoming, of change, of dreaming, and it is poetry we turn to when we travel those places of transformation, like birth, coming of age, marriage, accomplishments, and death. We sing our children, grandchildren, great-​grandchildren: our human experience in time, into and through existence. …

…We are more than 573 federally recognized indigenous tribal nations in the mainland United States; 231 are located in Alaska alone. That number doesn’t include the indigenous peoples of Hawai‘i, the Kanaka Maoli, whose nation numbers over 500,000, and the indigenous peoples of Guåhan and Amerika Sāmoa. We speak more than 150 indigenous languages. At contact with European invaders we were estimated at over 112 million. By 1650 we were fewer than six million. Today we are one-​half of one percent of the total population of the United States. Imagine the African continent with one-​half of one percent of indigenous Africans and you might understand the immensity of the American holocaust.

The United States is a very young country and has been in existence for only a few hundred years. Indigenous peoples have been here for thousands upon thousands of years and we are still here….

…When the first colonizers from the European continent stepped into our tribal territories, we were assumed illiterate because we did not communicate primarily with written languages, nor did we store our memory in books and on papers. The equating of written languages to literacy came with an oppositional world view, a belief set in place as a tool for genocide. Yet our indigenous nations prized and continue to value the word. The ability to speak in metaphor, to bring people together, to set them free in imagination, to train and to teach, was and is considered valuable, more useful than gold, oil, or anything else the newcomers craved. Many of our known texts, though preserved in orality, stand next to the top world literary texts, oral or ­written.

Joy Harjo on the Diverse, Groundbreaking World of Indigenous Poetry | Literary Hub

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