“Nêhiyâwin” / “The Cree Way” – as told by Harry Blackbird

Cree Elder Harry Blackbird

(born in the 1920s at Waterhen Lake First Nation,

roots in Makwa Sahgaiehcan (Loon Lake) First Nation, Saskatchewan, Canada)



Pêyakwâw êsa mîna ê-nanipât awa pêyak kisîyiniw, kâ-pawâtât onôtokwêma ê-pê-kiyokâkot. nikotwâsik askîy aspin ê-kî-nakataskîyit. êkwa ôma êkwa otahcahkwa kâ- pê-kiyokêyit. mitoni pîkwêyihtam êsa awa kisiyiniw, êkwa ôma ê-kamwâcipayit, ê- simatapit. nohtê-kiskêyihtam ôma, tânêhki kâ-pê-itohtêyit.


Mâci-pîkiskwêyiwa êsa ê-itikot, “ê-pê-itisahot ôma Mâmawi-ohtâwîmâw ta-pê- wihtamâtân kîkway. ana ohci oskinikîs kâ-kî-nakataskît ôta namôya kayâs.


Ispî kâ-takohtêt ôtê ahcahk-askîhk, pê-nakiskâk oskâpêwisa ê-kiskinohtahikot ê- wêhcasiniyik mêskanaw. pêyakwâyak anita, nîswâyak paski-môniyâw ôma mêskanaw nistam anima kihciniskêhk k-êsi-paskêmok mêskanaw, êyako pimitisahamwak. êyako mîna mitoni miywâsin ta-pimitisahamihk. piyisk kêtahtawê k-ôtihtahkik ita ê-ayâwiht tâskôc ê-wâ-wîkihk. sêmâk ôhi wîci-oskâya pêyakwan ê-ispihcisiyit, kâ-pê-nakiskâkot, êkoni ôhi osk-âya mêtoni nanâkatohkâtik.


Kâ-mâci-pîkiskwâtikot ôhi oskâya ê-nêhiyawêyit. mâka namôya nisitohtawêw awa oskinikîs tânisi ê-itwêyit âta wîsta ê-nêhiyawêt. ahpô mîna apihkêw tâskôc mâna ôki nêhiyawak mitoni kâ-pimitisahakik onêhiyâwininiwâw. pîkwêyihtam ê-wanihkêt awa oskinîkîs. âsamîna sipwêhtahik oskâpêwisa kotak êkwa anima mêskanaw ita kâ-kî- ohtohtêcik.


Êyako mîna ôma mêskanaw miywâsin êkwa wêhcasin ta-pimitisahamihk. otihtamwak wâskahikana ita câh-cîki ê-wâh-wîkihk. âsamîna êkota kotaka osk-âya pê- nakiskâk mâka êkwa ôki oskâyak namôya cîki pê-nâtik, wâhyawês ohci osâpamik, ê- pômênâkosicik ê-kanawâpamâcik ôhi oskinîkîsa ê-nêhiyâwinâkosiyit. nanitohtawêw ê- kîmôci-pîkiskwêyit. âtiht piko kîkway kâh-kahcicihtam. êkoni êkwa nisitohtawêw oskâya osâm piko ê-âkayâsîmocik, mâka namôya tâpwê cîkêyimik k-îsi-waskawîyit. mâmisihow, ê-pa-pêyakot ê-nitaw-mâmitonêyihtahk tânêhki êkâ nânitaw kâ-kî-wîcihiwêt.


Âsamîna êkota ohci sipwêhtahik oskâpêwisa awa oskinîkîs, mâka êkwa êkotê nakatik ita kâ-nîso-paskêmoniyiki mêskanawa, otahcahkwa ê-wanisiniyit mîna ê- papâmâcihoyit êkotê nâyiwâc osâm êkâ ê-ohci-kiskinohamâsot mîna êkâ ohci- wawîyêstahk onêhiyâwiwin mêkwâc ôta askîhk ê-pimâtisit.”


“Hâw, kisêyiniw”, itwêw awa nôtokwêw, “otahcahkwa pwâmayî-sipwêhtêt kâwi kiya êkwa piko ta-wihtamawacik, mîna t-âcimostawacik osk-âyak ôma âcimowin k-ôh-pê- itisahokawiyân ta-pê-wihtamâtân.”

“The Cree Way”:  a teaching story told by Cree Elder Harry Blackbird

Translation into English by Mary Anne Martell


One day while sleeping, an elderly man was awakened by his deceased wife of six years. She came in spirit form. The elderly man had mixed feelings about this visit but nevertheless managed to remain calm and sat up curious wondering why she had come to visit him.


She began to speak, “Listen very carefully… I have been sent by the Creator to tell you about a boy who passed away recently.

Upon entering the spirit world he was greeted by an Oskapêwis (Helper) who led the young man down an easy road to follow. At a certain point the road forked going in two directions. They first traveled down the road to the right. This road was also easy to follow. After walking for some time they came to a village. A number of young people about the same age as the youth came running towards him. The group of young people stopped to observe the new boy who’d been brought to them by the Oskapêwis.


The young people then began to speak in the language of his ancestry – Nêhiyawêwin (the Cree language). Unfortunately the young man could not make out what they were saying even though he was of the same nation; Nêhiyaw. He even had the two long braids of hair, common trademarks for Nêhiyawak who were following the Nêhiyawin (Cree worldview) way. Confused and feeling lost, the young man was quickly whisked away by the Oskapêwis towards the other road at the fork.


This new road was also easy to follow. They came upon a cluster of houses and another group of young people came towards him. Only this time these youth kept their distance with disappointment written all over their faces upon viewing his Aboriginal features. Listening to their conversation as they whispered among themselves, the young man could only make out a few words. He was able to understand these youth because they spoke English, but they obviously weren’t interested in this new boy by their behaviour. He felt betrayed, alone and wondered why he didn’t fit in.


The Oskapêwis once again whisked him away and this time left the young man at the fork of the road. His spirit is lost and wandering now because while alive he hadn’t learned to find his way.”


“Now, my husband,” the deceased wife’s spirit added just before she vanished, “it is up to you to make certain that young Indian children are told this story I have been sent here to tell you.”

.     .     .     .     .

Top photograph:   Napéu (Man)_Cree_1926 photograph by Edward Curtis

Middle photograph:   Louis Nomee, Kalispel, Montana_photograph by Richard T. Lewis_1940s

Bottom photograph:   An Elder congratulates a boy upon his completion of Grade 6 at an Awasis Day event in Edmonton, Alberta_June 2005.

Mosha Folger: “Leaving my Cold Self behind”

Mosha Folger a.k.a. M.O. was born in Iqaluit.  He is a poet spoken word and hiphop artist.

Mosha Folger

“Ancient Patience”


If you look back to the North

A couple of thousand years ago

To where the Atlantic ice fields

Battle the granite shield of the Arctic coast

You’d find a man staking claim to a land

That just doesn’t seem inhabitable

an Eskimo

a patient hunter who stood unmoving for hours

crouched over small bumps in the ice

subtle seal-breathing holes

Wicked winds pushing the temperature back down

from the comfort of twenty below

Facing the low sun so his shadow fell back

away from his goal

Waiting for a freezing breathe-out

to break the crystal white flatness of snow


Arm cocked, harpoon ready

eyes unblinking, blazing their own little holes

in the ice floe

Mouth closed, breath low

Because less movement, less sound

meant the night’s dinner was more likely to show

Yet sometimes that hunter

stood till the moon rose

before he finally shifted, breathed hard

and set off for home with nothing but cold toes

Nothing to bloody his wife’s arms to the elbows

Nothing to warm the guts of five kids

or silence the dogs’ moans


Nothing but the knowledge that

the next day when he woke

to stand again over that hole

maybe, just maybe

a seal would finally show him his nose

so the harpoon could come down

to deliver its lethal blow

Or maybe, just maybe



It’s that patience that allowed my people

to settle down and call the Arctic

our home.

.     .     .

“Summer Play”


In the Arctic desert where

the earth is sand and rocks

and the lichen cling

to the frayed edges of life

in granite fields

and the wet season feels like

three days of monsoon rains


In that place

patches of pavement

to a kid are

hallowed grounds

where devout children

offer their time

as sacrifice

with an endless circling of bikes

and an incessant bouncing of balls

like the pounding

and kneading

of rubber into cement

could stretch out

that holy land


How wondrous that

a tiny square of earth

can be home to so many

boundless dreams


But the reality is mostly

the sand and rocks

and gravel roads, and so

the games played adapt

games of writing

or drawing in the sand

and for one reason or another

chasing each other around


A television drawn in the dirt

with movies and shows

initialed inside

to be guessed at

D dot P dot S dot and

if someone gets it right

a frantic chase ensues

Or I Declare War

with a giant circle divided

into America and the USSR

Canada and sometimes Uganda

where the war of course

is chasing

and the fastest world leader

had dominion over all Man


And on the longest nights of daylight


Inuktitut style where groggy kids

up two days under constant sun

and stumbling

play with a rubber ball

by rules that themselves

are drowsy from the endless light

so the outfield

spans the whole town

making foul balls

as fair as any other

and the bases are run wrongwise

and whacking a runner

with the ball

is an out


Which means of course

the rest of the game is secondary

to learning how to throw

to anticipate

to picking off the right kid

in the right spot

every time


And so when a parent

with a voice that too

spans the whole town

finally calls in

one too many Expos

the real winners

aren’t on the team

with the most runs

but the team that

on the quick walk home

brags about the best


.     .    .

“Where have all the Shaman gone?”


In the blink of an eye

we’ve gone from a culture where

shaman conjured spirits and

swam, fed and bred

with giant Bowhead whales

for months at a time

And people held out hope that

sometime in their life

they’d be lucky enough to witness

that rare instance

of a distant-Inuit visit

Where men from another planet descended

to collect caches of rich seal fat

overloading their space-sleds

before packing up to head back

But blink

and we wake to a world where

all of that’s been reclassified filed and stacked

under the wild imaginations of

savage heathens

still unclean

cause they hadn’t discovered their

one true saviour and

path to heaven yet

Now elected Nunavut officials can be found

in a big hall amongst a big crowd

falling face down

wailing at the top of their lungs

praising Jesus’s name

and speaking in tongues

The holy spirit come upon their earthly vessel

leaving them convulsing

Spastic believers

shaking under the giant blue and white

Israeli flag they’ve hung


Inuit in the day

must have been some of the easiest

lost souls to convert

A hard frozen life of

struggle pain and loss made more palatable

with the promise of a kind of

spiritual dessert

Swallow the death cold and starvation down here

and when you die

enjoy the warm salvation up there

And some of those Arctic locals

fell hard for those lies

Or promises I guess you would call them

if you fell on the other side of the line

But it couldn’t have been made easy

or simplistic could it? No,

First the Anglicans and Catholics

split villages and

pit kin against kin

Families feuding over which clan

would really get to go

And which side

picked the wrong guy’s

rules to abide by

They’ve gotten over it now though

living in a kind harmony

that the rest of what we call

civilized society

should get to know


But now in the Arctic we have these

evangelical proselytizing types

whose fervour makes the Anglican and Catholic devotion

seem downright secular cause

they’ve got no HYPE

No souls being sucked

from bodies to on high

No chanting and dancing

with arms to the sky

No religious stakes in the continuation

of the state of Palestine

No possession

The craziest thing they’ve got

is a little blood into wine

Maybe a little shaman incantation

would do those folks some good

Could we at least get them a little reading

from the Koran or Talmud?

That’s unlikely though

Their faith blinds them so deep

The Good News Bible’s the only text

their eyes can see

We’ll have to get a closet shaman

to do a little midnight chanting

see if we can’t set some of those zealots free.

.     .     .

“Leaving my Cold Self behind”


Now there will be no more falling down

unique crunching packing sound

or children who know no other way to live winter

than to tumble sideways and upside-down

from snow banks ten feet off the ground

There will be no snow wind-blown

from parts unknown to all

but the most trained hunters

who brave the vast white fields alone

There will be no high-pitched wailing moan

of snowmobiles flying down

snow-packed gravel roads

No riders with grins plastered

Reveling in their temporary freedom from

small-town poor-me isolation syndrome

There will be no husky howls to wake me

to call me to their battle with the wind

the wind that howls back in kind

and relentless remorseless never fails to win

There will be no more dancing northern lights

chased from their nightly show

by southern skyline stage-fright

There will be only the warm glow

of a cold city that states its case

with what it sees as some divine right

to throw its gaudy remnants

high and loud into the night

There will be only nights where time is slowed

No sleep no comfort no peace

only this page this pen my words

and my message that

no matter the price sometimes

you just have to come in out of the cold.

.     .     .

“Old Indifferences”


Inuit existence was dependent partly on every member

of the encampment being able to at the very least get up

on their own two feet walk across the jagged tundra to follow

the moving caribou so everyone could eat


So we adopted an effective means of excising inefficient limbs

from the family tree that left the aged floating on ice pans and

insolent sons turned away to find their own path through

the cruel Arctic days


This isn’t a tradition we should reprise as it slides snugly into

its place in the still mostly unwritten Inuit histories but

it has a related convention that’s made its way down into

unofficial modern Inuit custom


If you’ve walked downtown Montreal you’ve seen it and in Ottawa

the spring thaw brings about the re-emergence in earnest of the

panhandling Eskimos downtown between the Mall and King Edward

on Rideau Street


Whether these people are a nuisance isn’t a question to me because

I have to ask if these people are friends or family maybe a second cousin

and do I have to follow protocol stop and ask a few

inconsequential questions


I try to avoid having to do that by changing up my Inuk stride

and remembering that from a distance I could look Thai

but Inuit could never fully ostracize so when I meet one

I stop say hi and try to be polite


I ask about my friend their son despite the likelihood that I

was the last to see their child and it hurts inside when they

ask and I have to tell them I hadn’t seen their kid in a little while but that

I knew he wasn’t going to trial


It requires a certain distance to sit back and witness these lives with blood

that courses from the same point as mine float away on slabs of concrete ice

but disease strikes and existence has always insisted

on a little bit of indifference.


All poems © Mosha Folger

.     .     .

Mosha Folger (aka M.O.) was born in Frobisher Bay, North-West Territories (now called Iqaluit, Nunavut) to an Inuk mother and American father.  A poet, writer, performer, and “Eskimocentric” spoken-word/hiphop rhymer, Mosha has taken part in the Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival, also at WestFest in Ottawa, the Railway Club in Vancouver, and the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik (where he was chosen a Best New Artist).   His video, Never Saw It (2008), combined breakdancing with traditional Inupiat dancing, and was an official selection at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival.  His very-personal film, Anaana, examined the effects of residential school (upon his mother).  His hiphop song Muscox (2009), with Kinnie Starr, includes lyrics that refer to the suicide of a young friend:  “I couldn’t be there when they buried my boy Taitusi … epitome of a boy who should grow into an Inuk man … artistic and witty … too smart for his own good God DAMN, too smart to live shitty … … Not knowing when he died / part of the rest of us went with him.”  In North America circa 1491 (2011) – from his album String Games (with Geothermal M.C.) – he says he’ll “show you how far back in time you can date my rhyme … I’m a native son but I speak a foreign tongue – this is North America circa 1491.”  And:  “I’m out to win this – but the prize isn’t for the witless.”

Hiphop as self-expression for Inuit youth of the next generation younger than Folger is bursting into being, and performers such as Hannah Tooktoo of Nunavik (Northern Québec) effortlessly combine it with the unique “throat singing” of older generations of Inuk.

Mosha has been an active poetry performer in Ottawa, also a member of the Bill Brown 1-2-3 Slam collective.  At Tungasuvvingat Inuit and at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre he has brought the power and the fun of spoken-word and hiphop to teens and children.

.     .     .     .     .

“Yeah Bro, I should say we do have Eskimo Lies”: the poetry of Inuit writer Norma Dunning


Eskimo Pie I


Found on Wikipedia under “Eskimo Pie”:

Eskimo Pies advertisement from 1921_Iowa, U.S.A.


My response to the ad:



I should say we do have


Not only in N. Canada and

Urban centers, but in


     tions of all flavors.

   Eskimo Lies is a


     conception of Northern


    Handled at Our


and by our general public





Buy Eskimo Lies – A Quality

Product of Canada


Inuit History


Eskimo Pie II

Eskimo pie 1

Oh give me a piece of that Eskimo Pie.


16 crushed chocolate wafers

4 tbsp of melted butter


An entire grouping of humanity

Secured in residential school, left to die

Eskimo pie 2

Let me see that chubby little brown face

Filled with 32 marshmallows


1/2 cup milk

1/8 tsp m.s.g.

Smiling inside a padlocked fur-ringed space

Eskimo pie 3

Include 1 tbsp of vanilla and

1 cup of heavy cream – whipped,

Beat the little heathens

Put them in their place

Eskimo pie 4

Melt the marshmallows,

Along with their mother tongues

Whiten with milk,


Add the salt

To the wounds


And vanilla in a double-boiler

Turn the heat on high

Eskimo pie 5

Bring to a boil

Simmer and strain

Removing all their relatives

Eskimo pie 6

Cool the filling

Fold in the whipped cream

Pour into a pie plate


Slice and Assimilate



To the Eskimos of Canada


We came here to make them better

Teaching them church and knitting sweaters


Changed their names and made them right

These dirty little animals full of fight


Taught them how to wash their hands

Took them off their hostile lands


Bringing them to our enlightened age

Gave them names on a page


They’re happier than they’ve ever been

A better side of life they have finally seen


Our mission is soon complete

They will no longer eat raw meat


We’ll soldier on in our god’s name

These lowly people we will tame


They will thank us for this soon one day

And on their land we will forever stay


The Necklace

(Or Forms of 20th Century Shackling – The Eskimo Identification Canada System 1941-1978)

RCMP logo

I gave you a necklace made out of sting

Such a pretty thing, such a pretty thing

I told you to wear forever and always

Such a pretty thing, such a pretty thing

I had a number put on it

Just for me!

I told you to remember it always

I did oh I did and oh I still do!

Woman Holding Ulu by Annie Pitsiulak_2001

I said it was better than your name

It is oh it is and oh it still is!

If you didn’t have it I won’t be yours

Oh please, no threats, I’m yours always

Without it there would be no happy ever after

Oh please, no threats, no threats


I told you to write it on all pieces of paper

I will and I have and I must and I do!

If it gets lost – we’re over!

I won’t and I haven’t and I must say I do!

This necklace is the best thing that’s ever

Happened to you

I seem to be lacking air or is

it hair or do I

dare say,

I’m turning blue”?





ZP_Norma in Inuktitut

(Norma – in Inuktitut)


There is more to this lamp than the lighting

of it. Shared in its shadows are laughter,

crying and the tears of so long ago.

The tears of a sickness changing us for

ever. Echoes of tuberculosis.

Once we were well and we gathered manniq. (wick of moss)

We slept in peace under spring stars hearing

Our giggles and sighs mixed only with the

sounds of the earth. Disease took us from

home and away, far away to stay locked

in the prison of white walls. To cough up

blood of my puvak and long for home. (lung)

No more the qulliq to warm our spirits (stone lamp)

Warm our hearts, heat our lives, feed our stomachs.

Our revolution came in Quallnaat

Bacteria and the light of the

qulliq grew dim. Black wisps answered our cries

blowing out the wick of what we once were.


For Mini Aodla-Freeman, the last living Inuit woman in Canada who knows the traditional uses of the Qulliq. She is the last keeper of this traditional Inuit flame.

.     .     .     .     .

In the poet’s words:

My name is Norma Dunning. I am a Beneficiary of Nunavut and a first-year M.A. Student at the University of Alberta with the inaugural class of M.A. Students in the Faculty of Native Studies. I am an urban Inuit writer. My M.A. Thesis is based on the Eskimo Identification Canada System which ran in Canada from 1941 to 1978. It is a system, simply put, that replaced Inuit names with numbers. The University of Alberta has been very kind towards my writing and I have been awarded the James Patrick Follinsbee Prize for Creative Prose (2011) and the Stephen Kapalka Memorial Prize for Prose (2012). My creative work, both prose and poetry, has never been published in hard copy. This does not stop me from writing and I would encourage all writers to remember that we write because of what is inside of us needing to get out onto a page.

Matna – Norma

Earth Day poems: “I’ve wanted to speak to the world for sometime now about you.”

ZP_Hieracium caespitosum

Maurice Kenny   (Mohawk poet and teacher, born 1929)

new song


We are turning

eagles wheeling sky

We are rounding

sun moving in the air

We are listening

to old stories

Our spirits to the breeze

the voices are speaking

Our hearts touch earth

and feel dance in our feet

Our minds in clear thought

we speak the old words

We will remember everything

knowing who we are

We will touch our children

and they will dance and sing

As eagle turns, sun rises, winds blow,

ancestors, be our guides

Into new bloodless tomorrows.

.     .     .




night/ and not

even rain could

stop love-


in shadows


street unbuckled

rain slid down neck/


exposed to hands

all elements/

ancient mouth

tender as thistle-down

swallowed centuries


spent urgency


life re-newed/continues

stories are told

under winter moons

big orange melons

purple plums


Seminoles dance in this light


Comanches dance in this light

celebrate, too/together

fixed in sweat/suction

of flesh to flesh

celebrate, too


rain/ and rain

washes sky clean


is green

green sun, green moon, green dreams

and there is only

the good feeling


now to sleep

.     .     .

curt suggests


Passing through,

wolf presses snow,


as though winter moon

washed the fallen snow

drifting the mountain slope.


He howls

and I’m assured things

of the old mountain will

not only stay but survive.

It is all about survival…

not the internet, online

or standing, waiting for a big mac.

Humans have survived,

some say, perhaps too long.

Beauty. Nobility. Poetry.

Rewards for the warrior

who brought the village fire.


Wolf is always hunting.

Winter is long and frozen,

dark and deadly dangerous.

Farmers are armed.

Sleep without fat is eternal

and pups are bones in enemy’s teeth.


The politic is not the language,

not even the song belongs to the voice

until fires are built, walls erected

and it is safe to sleep. Then sing.


Raccoon falls from the elm,

a high branch.

Wolf watches from the hill.

Vocables quaver.

Rocks learn to sing

in the water of the swift river.

Now we stand erect

and walk through the green woods.

Our songs are safely sculpted

into ice and pray

it won’t melt

to the touch of the ear bending to echoes.


I don’t care if you are only passing

through these woods.  Stay.

.     .     .



I’ve wanted to speak to the world

for sometime now about you.

There are many who confuse you with another wild

flower which is, in truth,

no relation not even

a distant, kissing cousin.

You don’t even look alike

nor survive in the same country-side.

Many people claim you are Indian

Paint Brush. Just today

a friend spotted your bloom

decorating the roadside grasses

and called out… “O there’s a beauty…

a paint brush.” I had

to explain the brush blooms

out west…Oklahoma…and

is red.  Period.


You, on the other hand,

blossom here in the east

and your bloom is fire-

red or orange and sometimes

yellow and you came on the

Mayflower with the others

from across the seas.


Farmers think the hawk eats

your blossoms for sight,

vision, but we’re happy

you show up every spring

on the roadside or in the field

bringing colour to morning

though dotted with dew

or snake-spittle, bee-balm.

Up here in the Adirondacks

I’ve seen you rise in snow

when April/May arrived late.


Well, all I’ve really got

to say is if the farmer is right

then the red-tail is pretty smart

and deserves your sight.

Now we have to get the the other

humans to admit just who you are.

.     .     .     .     .

All poems © Maurice Kenny, from his collection In the Time of the Present (2000)

Photograph:  Hieracium caespitosum a.k.a. meadow or field hawkweed

Poems for Earth Day: “The earth of my blood”: O’Connor, Ben the Dancer, La Fortune

ZP_Mother Earth_stonecut from 1961 by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013)

ZP_Mother Earth_stonecut from 1961 by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013)

Lawrence William O’Connor (Winnebago poet)

“O Mother Earth”


Never will I plough the earth.

I would be ripping open the breast of my mother.


Never will I foul the rivers.

I would be poisoning the veins of my mother.


Never will I cut down the trees.

I would be breaking off the arms of my mother.


Never will I pollute the air.

I would be contaminating the breath of my mother.


Never will I strip-mine the land.

I would be tearing off her clothes, leaving her naked.


Never will I kill the wild animals for no reason.

I would be murdering her children, my own brothers and sisters.


Never will I disrespect the earth in anyway.

Always will I walk in beauty upon the earth my mother,

Under the sky my father,

In the warmth of the sun my sister,

Through the glow of the moon my brother.

.     .     .

Ben the Dancer (Yankton Lakota-Sioux, Rosebud (Sicangu), South Dakota)

“My Rug Maker Fine”


slowly as I laid my head

upon his chest

the rain outside beckoned

for me to kiss him

we forgot the names that were called

and as I looked into his deep brown eyes

I saw the earth of his people

the earth of his blood

and the earth of his birth

looking at me


there was much to be said

on that rainy night

but talking came secondary

and not much was said

some names were meant to scald

they can break steadfast ties

then I heard the earth of his people

the earth of his blood

and the earth of his birth

telling me


he left on that rainy night

without a kiss

he went home forever

the rain beckoned at him to go

the earth of his people told me

he was going home

the earth of his blood called him

to come home

and the earth of his birth took him

from me


oh how my heart went on a dizzy flight

I will him miss

knowing this was going to sever

our hearts and leave a hole

I know the drum of his people

that called him home

I feel the pulse of his blood

that drew him there

I smell the scent of his birth

that made me let him go


I have endured the name

the scalding brand

I stand on my own feet now

the earth of my people

the earth of my blood

and the earth of my birth

told me to let you go

I listened

I know now

and we are free.

.     .     .

Richard La Fortune/Anguksuar (Yupik Eskimo, born 1960, Bethel, Kuskokvagmiut, Alaska)


I have picked a bouquet for you:

I picked the sky,

I picked the wind,

I picked the prairies with their waving grasses,

I picked the woods, the rivers, brooks and lakes,

I picked the deer, the wildcat, the birds and small animals.

I picked the rain – I know you love the rain,

I picked the summer stars,

I picked the sunshine and the moonlight,

I picked the mountains and the oceans with their mighty waters.

I know it’s a big bouquet, but open your arms wide;

    you can hold all of it and more besides.


Your mind and your love will

    let you hold all of this creation.

.     .     .     .     .

All poems © each poet:  Lawrence William O’Connor, Ben the Dancer, Richard La Fortune

Selections are from a compilation of “Gay American Indian” (including Lesbian and Two-Spirits) poetry, short stories and essays –  Living the Spirit – published in 1988.

Poems for Earth Day: Rita Joe’s “Mother Earth’s Hair”, “There is Life Everywhere” and “When I am gone”

ZP_Mother Earth as seen by modern science (Mercator projection)

ZP_Mother Earth as seen by modern science (Mercator projection)

Rita Joe (Mi’kmaw poet, 1932-2007)

“Mother Earth’s Hair”


In August 1989 my husband and I were in Maine

Where he died, I went home alone in pain.

We had visited each reservation we knew

Making many friends, today I still know.

Near a road a woman was sitting on the ground

She was carefully picking strands of grass

Discarding some, holding others straight

I asked why was she picking so much.

She said, “They are ten dollars a pound.”

My husband and I sat alongside of her, becoming friends.

A bundle my husband picked then, later my treasure.

I know, as all L’nu’k* know,

that sweetgrass is mother earth’s hair

So dear in my mind my husband picking shyly for me

Which he never did before, in two days he will leave me.

Today as in all days I smell sweetgrass, I think of him

Sitting there so shy, the picture remains dear.


*L’nu = an Aboriginal person

.     .     .

“There is Life Everywhere”


The ever-moving leaves of a poplar tree lessened my anxiety as I walked through the woods trying to make my mind work on a particular task I was worried about. The ever-moving leaves I touched with care, all the while talking to the tree. “Help me,” I said. There is no help from anywhere, the moving story I want to share. There is a belief that all trees, rocks, anything that grows, is alive, helps us in a way that no man can ever perceive, let alone even imagine. I am a Mi’kmaw woman who has lived a long time and know which is true and not true, you only try if you do not believe, I did, that is why my belief is so convincing to myself. There was a time when I was a little girl, my mother and father had both died and living at yet another foster home which was far away from a native community. The nearest neighbours were non-native and their children never went near our house, though I went to their school and got along with everybody, they still did not go near our home. It was at this time I was so lonely and wanted to play with other children my age which was twelve at the time. I began to experience unusual happiness when I lay on the ground near a brook just a few metres from our yard. At first I lay listening to the water, it seemed to be speaking to me with a comforting tone, a lullaby at times. Finally I moved my playhouse near it to be sure I never missed the comfort from it. Then I developed a friendship with a tree near the brook, the tree was just there, I touched the outside bark, the leaves I did not tear but caressed. A comforting feeling spread over me like warmth, a feeling you cannot experience unless you believe, that belief came when I was saddest. The sadness did not return after I knew that comfortable unity I shared with all living animals, birds, even the well I drew water from. I talked to every bird I saw, the trees received the most hugs. Even today I am sixty-six years old, they do not know the unconditional freedom I have experienced from the knowledge of knowing that this is possible. Try it and see. There is life everywhere, treat it as it is, it will not let you down.

.     .     .

“When I am gone”


The leaves of the tree will shiver

Because aspen was a friend one time.

Black spruce, her arms will lay low

And across the sky the eagles fly.

The mountains be still

Their wares one time like painted pyramids.

All gold, orange, red splash like we use on face.

The trees do their dances for show

Like once when she spoke

I love you all.

Her moccasin trod so softly, touching mother

The rocks had auras after her sweat

The grass so clean, she pressed it to cheek

Every blade so clean like He wants you to see.

The purification complete.

“Kisu’lkw” you are so good to me.

I leave a memory of laughing stars

Spread across the sky at night.

Try counting, no end, that’s me – no end.

Just look at the leaves of any tree, they shiver

That was my friend, now yours

Poetry is my tool, I write.

.     .     .     .     .

For more of Rita Joe’s poems please see our April 11th posts…

Alootook Ipellie: Artist, Writer, Dreamer !

ZP_The agony and the ecstasy_illustration for a short story in Arctic Dreams and Nightmares_Alootook Ipellie, 1993

ZP_The agony and the ecstasy_illustration for a short story in Arctic Dreams and Nightmares_Alootook Ipellie, 1993

Alootook Ipellie (1951-2007)

It Was Not ‘Jajai-ja-jiijaaa Anymore – But ‘Amen’”
It was in the guise of the Holy Spirit
That they swooped down on the tundra
Single-minded and determined
To change forever the face
Of ancient Spirituals

These lawless missionaries from places unknown
Became part of the landscape
Which was once the most sacred tomb
Of lives lived long ago

The last connection to the ancient Spirits
Of the most sacred land
Would be slowly severed
Never again to be sensed
Never again to be felt
Never again to be seen
Never again to be heard
Never again to be experienced
Sadness supreme for the ancient culture
Jubilation in the hearts of the converters

Where was justice to be found?

They said it was in salvation
From eternal fire
In life after death
And unto everlasting Life in Heaven

A simple life lived
On the sacred land was no more

The psalm book now replaced
The sacred songs of shamans

The Lord’s Prayer now ruled
Over the haunting chant of revival

It was not ‘Jajai-ja-jiijaaa’ anymore



.     .     .

“How noisy they seem”


I saw a picture today, in the pages of a book.
It spoke of many memories of when I was still a child:
Snow covered the ground,
And the rocky hills were cold and gray with frost.
The sun was shining from the west,
And the shadows were dark against the whiteness of the
Hardened snow.


My body felt a chill
Looking at two Inuit boys playing with their sleigh,
For the fur of their hoods was frosted under their chins,
From their breathing.
In the distance, I could see at least three dog teams going away,
But I didn’t know where they were going,
For it was only a photo.
I thought to myself that they were probably going hunting,
To where they would surely find some seals basking on the ice.
Seeing these things made me feel good inside,
And I was happy that I could still see the hidden beauty of the land,
And know the feeling of silence.

.     .     .

Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border”


It is never easy
Walking with an invisible border
Separating my left and right foot
I feel like an illegitimate child
Forsaken by my parents
At least I can claim innocence
Since I did not ask to come
Into this world

Walking on both sides of this
Invisible border
Each and everyday
And for the rest of my life
Is like having been
Sentenced to a torture chamber
Without having committed a crime

Understanding the history of humanity
I am not the least surprised
This is happening to me
A non-entity
During this population explosion
In a minuscule world

I did not ask to be born an Inuk
Nor did I ask to be forced
To learn an alien culture
With its alien language
But I lucked out on fate
Which I am unable to undo

I have resorted to fancy dancing
In order to survive each day
No wonder I have earned
The dubious reputation of being
The world’s premier choreographer

Of distinctive dance steps
That allow me to avoid
Potential personal paranoia
On both sides of this invisible border

Sometimes the border becomes so wide
That I am unable to take another step
My feet being too far apart
When my crotch begins to tear
I am forced to invent
A brand new dance step
The premier choreographer
Saving the day once more

Destiny acted itself out
Deciding for me where I would come from
And what I would become

So I am left to fend for myself
Walking in two different worlds
Trying my best to make sense
Of two opposing cultures
Which are unable to integrate
Lest they swallow one another whole

Each and everyday
Is a fighting day
A war of raw nerves
And to show for my efforts
I have a fair share of wins and losses
When will all this end
This senseless battle
Between my left and right foot

When will the invisible border
Cease to be.

.     .     .     .     .

ZP_Inverse Ten Commandments_Alootook Ipellie_1993

ZP_Inverse Ten Commandments_Alootook Ipellie_1993

ZP_Sedna by Alootook Ipellie_1993

ZP_Sedna by Alootook Ipellie_1993

ZP_I, Crucified_Alootook Ipellie_1993

ZP_I, Crucified_Alootook Ipellie_1993

Alootook Ipellie

“Self-Portrait: Inverse Ten Commandments” (1993)


I woke up snuggled in the warmth of a caribou-skin blanket during a vicious storm. The wind was howling like a mad dog, whistling whenever it hit a chink in my igloo. I was exhausted from a long, hard day of sledding with my dogteam on one of the roughest terrains I had yet encountered on this particular trip.


I tried going back to sleep, but the wind kept waking me as it got stronger and even louder. I resigned myself to just lying there in the moonless night, eyes open, looking into the dense darkness. I felt as if I was inside a black hole somewhere in the universe. It didn’t seem to make any difference whether my eyes were opened or closed.


The pitch darkness and the whistling wind began playing games with my equilibrium. I seemed to be going in and out of consciousness, not knowing whether I was still wide awake or had gone back to sleep. I also felt weightless, as if I had been sucked in by a whirlwind vortex.


My conscious mind failed me when an image of a man’s face appeared in front of me. What was I to make of his stony stare – his piercing eyes coloured like a snowy owl’s, and bloodshot, like that of a walrus?


He drew his clenched fists in front of me. Then, one by one, starting with the thumbs, he spread out his fingers. Each finger and thumb revealed a tiny, agonized face, with protruding eyes moving snake-like, slithering in and out of their sockets! Their tongues wagged like tails, trying to say something, but only mumbled, since they were sticking too far out of their mouths to be legible. The pitch of their collective squeal became higher and higher and I had to cover my ears to prevent my eardrums from being punctured. When the high pitched squeal became unbearable, I screamed like a tortured man.


I reached out frantically with both hands to muffle the squalid mouths. Just moments before I grabbed them, they faded into thin air, reappearing immediately when I drew my hands back.


Then there was perfect silence.

I looked at the face, studying its features more closely, trying to figure out who it was. To my astonishment, I realized the face was that of a man I knew well. The devilish face, with its eyes planted upside down, was really some form of an incarnation of myself! This realization threw me into a psychological spin.


What did this all mean? Did the positioning of his eyes indicate my devilish image saw everything upside down? Why the panic-stricken faces on the tips of his thumbs and fingers? Why were they in such fits of agony? Had I indeed arrived at Hell’s front door and Satan had answered my call?


The crimson sheen reflecting from his jet-black hair convinced me I had arrived at the birthplace of all human fears. His satanic eyes were so intense that I could not look away from them even though I tried. They pulled my mind into a hypnotic state. After some moments, communicating through telepathy, the image began telling me horrific tales of unfortunate souls experiencing apocalyptic terror in Hell’s Garden of Nede.


The only way I could deal with this supernatural experience was to fight to retain my sanity, as fear began overwhelming me. I knew it would be impossible for me to return to the natural, physical world if I did not fight back.


This experience made my memory flash back to the priestly eyes of our local minister of Christianity. He had told us how all human beings, after their physical death, were bound by the doctrine of the Christian Church that they would be sent to either Heaven or Hell. The so-called Christian minister had led me to believe that if I retained my good-humoured personality toward all mankind, I would be assured a place in God’s Heaven. But here I was, literally shrivelling in front of an image of myself as Satan incarnate!


I couldn’t quite believe what my mind telepathically heard next from this devilish man. As it turned out, the ten squalid heads represented the Inverse Ten Commandments in Hell’s Garden of Nede. To reinforce this, the little mouths immediately began squealing acidic shrills. They finally managed to make sense with the motion of their wagging tongues. Two words sprang out thrice from ten mouths in unison: “Thou Shalt! Thou Shalt! Thou Shalt!” I could not believe I was hearing those two words. Why was I the object of Satan’s wrath? Had I been condemned to Hell’s Hole?


My mind flashed back to the solemn interior of our local church once more where these words had been spoken by the minister: “God made man in His own image.” In which case, the Satan could also have made man in his own image. So I was almost sure that I was face to face with my own image as the Satan of Hell!


“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” the image said, his hands reaching for mine. “Welcome to the Garden of Nede.”


I found his greeting repulsive, more so when he wrapped his squalid fingertips around my hands. The slithering eyes retreated into their sockets, closing their eyelids. The wagging tongues began slurping and licking my hands like hungry tundra wolves. I pulled my hands away as hard as I could but wasn’t able to budge them.


The rapid motion of their sharp tongues cut through my skin. The cruelty inflicted on me was unbearable! Blood was splattering all over my face and body. I screamed in dire pain. As if by divine intervention, I instinctively looked down between the legs of my Satanic image. I bolted my right knee upward as hard as I could muster toward his triple bulge. My human missile hit its target, instantly freeing my hands. In the same violent moment, the image of myself as the Satan of Hell’s Garden of Nede disappeared into thin air. Only a wispy odour of burned flesh remained.


Pitch darkness once again descended all around. Total silence. Calm. Then, peace of mind…


Some days later, when I had arrived back in my camp, I was able to analyze what I had experienced that night. As it turned out, my soul had gone through time and space to visit the dark side of myself as the Satan incarnate. My soul had gone out to scout my safe passage to the cosmos. The only way any soul is freed is for it to get rid of its Satan incarnate at the doorstep of Hell’s Garden of Nede. If my soul had not done what it did, it would have remained mired in Hell’s Garden of Nede for an eternity after my physical death. This was a revelation that I did not quite know how to deal with. But it was an essential element of my successful passage to the cosmos as a soul and therefore, the secret to my happiness in afterlife!

ZP_The Idiot Box is Here_Illustration by Alootook Ipellie, 1975, for Inuit Today magazine

ZP_The Idiot Box is Here_Illustration by Alootook Ipellie, 1975, for Inuit Today magazine

ZP_Political illustration about the struggle to create Nunavut_Alootook Ipellie, 1980

ZP_Political illustration about the struggle to create Nunavut_Alootook Ipellie, 1980

When Inuk illustrator and writer Alootook Ipellie died of heart attack at the age of 56 in 2007 he had only just unveiled a series of new drawings at an Ottawa exhibition – this, after a decade of artistic silence. Paul Gessell of The Ottawa Citizen wrote: “Ipellie’s technical skills are unbeatable. His content ranges from playfully innocent to devilishly searing. These pen-and-ink drawings, although often minimal, carry a wallop.”

Born in 1951 to Napatchie and Joanassie at a nomadic hunting camp on Baffin Island, Ipellie’s family moved to Frobisher Bay (later Iqaluit) when Alootook was a little boy. As an adult the shy and thoughtful Ipellie lived in Ottawa for most of his life, and that was where he completed high school in the late 1960s. Although he enrolled in a lithography course at West Baffin Co-op, he dropped out of it in 1972 and took a job as both typist and translator for Inuit Today magazine. He also began to do one-box cartoons for the magazine, commenting on social issues with a wry humour that Inuit readers appreciated. He would wear many hats at Inuit Today, eventually becoming editor. In the early 1990s he drew a popular comic called “Nuna and Vut” for Nunatsiaq newspaper where he also penned a column called “Ipellie’s Shadow”.

Not one to travel – although he did plan to return to Nunavut in 2008, having grown tired of southern life – still, Ipellie had ventured as far as Germany and Australia to tour with his pen-and-ink drawings which were slowly gaining recognition – slowly very slowly, because the art collectors’ preference continues to be for the beautiful bird images of Kenojuak Ashevak (bless her!) over those of Annie Pootoogook – where the here-and-now ‘real-ness’ factor is paramount.

A poet and short-story writer as well, Ipellie explored a vividly creative imagination in his 1993 story-book with illustrations: Arctic Dreams and Nightmares.

In the preface he wrote: “This is a story of an Inuk who has been dead for a thousand years and who then recalls the events of his former life through the eyes of his living soul. It’s also a story about a powerful shaman who learned his shamanic trade as an ordinary Inuk. He was determined to overcome his personal weaknesses, first by dealing with his own mind and, then, with the forces out of his reach or control.”

In Arctic Dreams and Nightmares bawdy humour and frank descriptions of sex and violence give Ipellie’s stories much in common with the Inuit people’s stories from olden times. Ipellie writes of his main character’s encounter with his Satanic other self; of his crucifixion, too, complete with hungry wolves; of Sedna, the Inuit Mother of Sea Beasts’ sexual frustration and how shamans came up with a plan to help satisfy Her so that she would release walrus and seal once again for the starving ice fishermen and their families; a hermaphrodite shaman who is executed via harpoon plus bow-and-arrow; and a sealskin blanket-toss game for the purpose of throwing a man all the way up to ‘heaven’.

Alootook Ipellie’s perspective on his life as an Inuk was this:

“In some ways, I think I am fortunate to have been part and parcel of an era when cultural change pointed its ugly head to so many Inuit who eventually became victims of this transitional change. It is to our credit that, as a distinct culture, we have kept our eyes and intuition on both sides of the cultural tide, aspiring, as always, to win the battle as well as the war. Today, we are still mired in the battle but the war is finally ending.”


We thank John Thompson of the Iqaluit weekly Nunatsiaq News for biographical details of Alootook Ipellie’s life.

.     .     .     .     .


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 135 other followers