Indigenous Peoples’ Day

John Quincy Adams Ward, "Study for Treaty with Native Americans (from Sketchbook)," graphite on paper, ca. 1860, Gift of Edward R. Groves, 1985, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In a red state like Missouri, their hero columbised this land
but for us, indigenous emigrants of burnt sage and blown prayers,
a shivering flame in the stomach and Dr. Silver Wolf’s drums outside
the Buder Center for American Indian Studies in the city.

Voices blue, we remember blood, buried histories burning like dry ice
in our hands, our kids chasing ancestors in the shadows, fireflies flickering
so faintly it’s a wonder we saw such brevity. Candles dripping, trilling tongues,
another new apocalypse. We have more defiant hope that never ends.

My kid brought home a bloody knife today, a Pinterest craft,
a replica of the Santa Maria, held in her happy hands as if she
could sunbathe on its deck while she cruised the Caribbean.
What fresh insult this irony, this red state elementary school—.

Can we call—no Anasazi, no Illiniwek, no Taino, no Incan, no Aztec,
no Maya, no Quechua, no SOS signals—a lesson?

No amnesia for this little one. We light the ship on fire, burning it like
our ancestor’s world burned to the ground. No red state holidays, no letting
my child fall off the edge of the earth—only student loans, only invisibility, only
the promises I made on the reservation, only the tender age of indoctrination,

only teachers navigating with an error-ridden map, only burnt ashes in the Native
mother’s mouth, only the violent conquest and the thirst for gold that never ends.


Deborah Taffa

DEBORAH TAFFA teaches Creative Nonfiction at Webster University in St. Louis, and will be writing for Season Three of the PBS series, America from the Ground Up. The Trail of Tears, a documentary she co-wrote for Stratigraphic Productions, will appear on PBS nationwide soon. A Public Space fellow and an Ellen Meloy Desert Writer’s Award recipient, her work has appeared in Salon, BrevityThe RumpusThe Huff Post, and other places.

Twitter: @deborahtaffa




Featured image: John Quincy Adams Ward, “Study for Treaty with Native Americans (from Sketchbook),” graphite on paper, ca. 1860, Gift of Edward R. Groves, 1985, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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