Indigenous People’s Day (2017)

Nikkita Oliver

Red and Black stand
on a shore of White expectation
fragile and salt-watered

hear the flood rush

they wanna know of the land
want Us to teach them
how to feel better
about the condition of Our Mother
how Her womb tears at the seams
to give birth to their seed of force and industry
want you to teach them to protect the water
they will not miss till it is gone away and bottled

want you to give up your 3 sisters
wanna commodify them
sell them back to Us
when We are hungry & thirsty
wanna hear of the fish and birds and trees and plains and mountains
but don’t wanna honor the treaties to protect them
want you to tell them
how you come from bear clan or elk people
but can’t seem to remember my people lived long before enslavement
want Us to act like We weren’t stolen
like this land had no name
before ill-fitting mouths chewed the sound out of it

want Us to carry Our stories like rocks
but expect Us not to break their windows
when We tell them

wanna hear about Our struggles
wanna know how my people survived the middle passage
wanna make oceans of Our fears
in textbooks about the past
but sail past us in the present

wanna wash away your trails with Our tears
act like We ain’t never been pit against each other
want Us to forget
how when Our bodies washed up on your shores
you heard Our heart beats
We felt your rhythm
knew We came from different lands
but the same Mother
wanna take Our children at gunpoint
call it boarding school
call it jail
call it policing
call it welfare
call it history
but We still
call it murder
call it genocide

ask Us to tell Our stories for entertainment
but shame Us when We tell them for survival

for celebration
Our stories are for Us
Our stories are for Our children
in their presence Our stories become warnings
can’t understand why Our tongues
sound like whiplash
like sword and shield
like bow and arrow

like how Our stories in Our mouths
set fires in the hearts of millions & men march
that’s power

Our stories are powerful
We must tell them even if they break a few windows
sometimes because they will break a few windows
open doors and unlock hearts

like how this poem ain’t just a poem
it’s a battle cry We did not start but We intend to finish
We pass the baton like a rite of passage
ask Our children to run a race they aren’t supposed to win
but We won’t let them lose
lest We be finished entirely

can’t understand why We talk so loud
reverberate so proud all over everything
We made
this body a reconstructed drum
Our heartbeats Our mother tongue
We speak in sacred rhythm
so they cannot understand us

my sisters
let us dance like Our mothers
like Our mother’s mothers
like Our mother’s mother’s mothers
let us give birth to liberation
in Our dancing bodies

you put on your jingle dress
i will wrap my aso ke round my head
together We call the drummers
and they bring the singers

and We round dance
and make noise
till We aren’t afraid
they might hear Us

so tired of being afraid
they might hear Us

as Our Mother quakes
beneath Our feet echoes
a heartbreak
she’s chosen to bear

you, the Land
desperately wanting to touch Our souls
when We miss Our roots
when We can’t get grounded
yet been grounded so long
We can’t remember
how to fly away

when the seasons change
pray We remember who

We are

from the land
from each other
distance relatives
from the same mother

Red and Black stand
on the shore of White expectation
fragile and salt watered

We do not give in to the flood
rather We give to live with each other

Red & Black meet
and the shore feels a change
in the tide of Our solidarity

Originally published in Moss: Volume Three.
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