Saturday, November 30, 2019

Poems for Native American Heritage Month--"The Last Beloved Woman" and "Learning Cherokee"

I have been quite ill for months (in 3 months of being unable to swallow or eat much, I lost 50 pounds that the steroids had put on me ) and was coping with serious injury to my  right shoulder, as well as steroid myopathy stealing my ability to stand or walk much, before that. As a consequence, I have neglected this blog for too many months.

Here it is the end of Native American Heritage Month, and I have not posted one essay or poem for it--when I normally post one several times a week throughout the month. So, today, I'll post two poems for the last day of Native American Heritage Month as a bare minimum I can do for the one month a year the rest of the country remembers we are still here. And perhaps, on my own, I will extend Native American Heritage Month to the rest of the year on this blog.

She Speaks for Her Clan by Dorothy Sullivan
This painting is one of my favorites--"She Speaks for Her Clan" by Dorothy Sullivan--and it illustrates Cherokee clan mothers, and for Blue Clan in the center, it pictures Wilma Mankiller as a Beloved Woman. This first poem deals with Beloved Women and the last Beloved Woman of the Cherokee before Removal split the tribe into three different nations. The second poem is a history of Cherokee encounters with Europeans in the guise of a language lesson.


Mother-clanned, the Cherokee towns,
farms, and orchards, before all were stolen
by those who forced the People on the long dread march west,
belonged to the women, as did the children.

Nanye-hi, in 1738 born
a daughter of the Wolf Clan,
married Kingfisher, bore two children.
During the Battle of Taliwa,
she took her dead husband’s place,
avenged his death, rallied warriors to victory,
became a ghi gua.

Ghi gua, or Beloved Woman,
title given by the seven clans
to women who had served the People
as warriors and mothers both.
Given a swan’s wing and special place in council,
the ghi gua even held a voting seat
on the Council of Chiefs. With their swan wings,
they had the final say
over whether the town went to war.

Today I watch women go to a war foolish as many,
often leaving babies behind.
Something’s out of synch, though.
It’s still old men, who’ve never set foot on battlefield
nor suckled a babe, making decisions of war and peace.

Nanye-hi married again, a white man named Ward.
Nancy Ward, the ghi gua, respected
among Cherokees and settlers,
warned settlements of impending attacks, 
to prevent complete war,
negotiated treaties, all later broken.

At the end of life, settlers forced
Nanye-hi from her home to die before the Trail of Tears.
Trying to fit the white man’s mold,
the Cherokee shed their councils.
No place for Beloved Women.
Nanye-hi Nancy Ward was the last ghi gua.

We need women with swan wings.

Published in Dark Sister (Mammoth Publications, 2018)


O si yo. Hello.
To hi tsu? How are you?
Di qho ye ni u si wha. My hands are empty.
Ga do u s di hi a? What is this?
Gi ga ge i. Red.
U ne ga. White.
A ma. Water.
Wa do Thank you.
Yo ne ga. White man.
Nu la. Hurry.
Yv wi. The people.
Ga tli da. Arrow.
Ga yo tli gadO hi. Just a little land.
A ge ya. Woman.
A ni s ga ya. Men.
A sa no. Dress.
Qua na hl gv ni. Peach trees.
Ga yo tli gado hi. Just a little land.
A ha ni. Field.
Yv gi. Nail.
Ga yo tli gado hi. Just a little land.
Tsa ga se sde sdi! Be careful!
A de la. Money.
Tla hv. Absolutely not.
Ni gad a gado a! All your land!
Gi ga. Blood.
E hi sti yu. Pain.

Published in Dark Sister (Mammoth Publications, 2018)