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This poem was inspired by the microseries "We Shall Remain", which was shown as part of the "American Experience" series on PBS in April, 2009.
Here’s a story that all must know
of things that happened long ago,
in the land of day’s first light.
The Creator’s garden the people were tending,
gaining a good life and joy unending,
when everyone did what they knew was right.
Diligently were the people working,
their sacred duties never shirking,
creating a reason for them to boast.
A vast continental garden they tended,
its endless fruitfulness they extended
from coast to rocky wave-washed coast.
Came one day a haunting vision
of the land sliced up in cruel division
by strangers we had not seen before.
Then we saw the people battered;
saw Earth’s leafy garment tattered,
when the strangers came ashore.
From across the bitter water, from the rising of the sun,
came people with gifts we would not shun.
These strange palefaced people we saw in wonder.
We welcomed them with food and song.
Later did we see our wrong,
see our acceptance as a terrible blunder.
The people came to the beach and saw then,
came down to the shore and stood in awe then,
of wooden islands floating on the sea.
In silence was the vision growing
with onshore wind briskly blowing,
billowing white blankets hung from a tree.
Not for long did they stay.
Made their trades and went away,
went back again to their native shore.
So innocently we thought then
they found what they sought then
and would come back hither nevermore.
But in greater numbers they returned,
cut the forests and trees they burned.
They churned up the land and strange plants they grew.
On our land they built their houses.
In our hearts bewilderment rouses.
They brought to our land animals that we never knew.
Even they were unaware
of the curse they came to share.
For their ignorance we cannot blame them.
Desperately, on our own, a healing we sought.
They seemed not to suffer from what they brought.
But a sickness of the spirit would inflame them.
We thought the spirits were displeased
when we all became diseased
and met our death in massive number.
Oh, how many people cried
as many others fell ill and died
to leave this world in endless slumber.
Even though they never knew us
with their fire sticks they slew us
as if we had done them a terrible wrong.
They seemed offended by our very existence,
so we offered our strongest resistance,
asserting that to this land we belong.
Wise Tecumseh crossed the land,
brought his words to every band;
crossed the land, both breadth and length.
Traveling hard with nary a pause
to unite the tribes in common cause;
for in great numbers lies great strength.
Said Tecumseh, "I have come here to plead,
if anyone doubts the Americans’ greed,
if such a one is here tonight,
then that one simply does not know
the character of our common foe,
who will take away our every right."
Desperately Tecumseh traveled
as our world came unraveled
by the palefaces’ greedy scheme.
Frantically he came and warned us
of the coming storm that scorned us
like a hideous fever dream.
Some palefaces tried to help us,
for their own reasons tried to help us,
In the War of 1812 they took our side.
Then the smoky battlefield they left,
leaving our warriors of help bereft.
That in our land our enemies might abide.
The Cherokee did something bold
and tried to fit the paleface mold.
Though it was to no avail.
It matters not how the oppressor picked him,
the perpetrator of a wrong never forgives his victim.
Reconciliation will always fail.
The chief John Ross came and told us,
came and tried then not to scold us.
He said we should adopt the white man’s ways.
Live in houses and wear their clothing
that we might pacify their loathing
so we might live in peace for all our days.
Realizing their greatest fears
upon the frozen Trail of Tears,
the Cherokee went in massive movement.
by those who stole their land were sent.
The land thieves believed that absence meant
for the land a vast improvement.
On the Plains a war they waged,
raids upon our villages staged
attacking us again time after time.
Angry that we dared exist,
they gave Justice’s neck a twist
and declared our very being a crime.
If the plant you would uproot
and make it very existence moot
you must deny its every need.
You must kill it root and branch,
give no part of it a chance,
and not leave as much as a single seed.
Lo, these many generations passing,
as spiritual power we’ve been amassing,
that to the Creator we might pray.
Let the paleface repent his blunder,
and gaze upon our world with wonder
that in it he might want to stay.
With the dream long abiding,
on the paleface trains came riding
wise Wovoka amongst us hurled.
With the wondrous gift he brought us,
the sacred Ghost Dance he then taught us,
that we might touch the Spirit World.
So we heard him, heard his story
saw him wreathed in shining glory
As stars fell twinkling from his hand.
Let medicine, he said, flow like rivers,
put spirit arrows in our quivers,
to draw the poison from this land.
Day and night the drums were pounding
and endlessly the voices sounding,
as the people came to stomp and prance;
feelings from the land extracting
as their gay steps were enacting
the spirit of the old Ghost Dance.
Happily they jumped and twirled
o’er the wreckage of this world,
so the land they would restore
and tell the wonder-evoking story
of its renewed health and glory
and live in peace forevermore.
The paleface, with his logic and reason,
saw that everything has its season
and its proper given place.
Like wakened sleepwalkers, dazed they stumbled
through the life-force and were humbled
by the Great Healing’s frantic pace.
Grew the plants in vast profusion,
not this time a mere illusion
of some developer’s sterile scheme.
Thus the blighted land recovered
as the spirit of healing o’er it hovered
and realized the Great Spirit’s dream.
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