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SAIL 16.4
Winter 2004



3 "A Spring Wind Rising . . . Listen. You Can Hear It"
9 Excerpt from "Children of Fire, Children of Water: Memory and Trauma"
12 An Interview with Simon Ortiz: July 14, 1988
20 Simon Ortiz and the Lyricism of Continuance: "For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land"
29 Maps of the Universe
34 "The story goes its own way": Ortiz, Nationalism, and the Oral Poetics of Power
47 Poetry Can Be All This: All of You, All of Me, All of Us
51 The Stories He Lives By
54 "It was that Indian": Simon Ortiz, Activist Poet
57 The Challenge of Speaking First
61 "Story Speaks for Us": Centering the Voice of Simon Ortiz
68 A "Touching Man" Brings Aacqu Close
79 Resistance and Continuance through Cultural Connections in Simon J. Ortiz's Out There Somewhere
89 Morning Star Song
93 The Work That Must Be Done
96 Revisiting the Regenerative Possibilities of Ortiz
99 Tribute to Simon J. Ortiz
101 Prairie Songs and Poor Prayers
103 Telling Our Daughters
108 Many Thanks, Simon, for a Wonderful Gift
111 Contributor Biographies


Special Issue
In Honor of Simon J. Ortiz

Volume 16, Number 4






"A Spring Wind Rising . . . Listen. You Can Hear It"


This special issue of Studies in American Indian Literatures is devoted to the work of Simon J. Ortiz. It is a gift and an honor to serve as this issue's guest editor. For me, since first hearing Native American literature over twenty years ago at a reading in Gallup and first studying native literatures in classes taught by Luci Tapahonso at the University of New Mexico, Simon Ortiz's work has been a constant focal point in my experience with and understandings of Native American and, more broadly, American and global literary traditions. I see Simon's work within a global literary tradition of writers who offer us their words and lives as a lens or light by which we can better perceive and understand what it means to be human during times when far too many have forgotten: writers such as Sophocles, Solomon in his Song, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, William Carlos Williams, Wittgenstein, Lorine Niedecker, Edmund Jabés, Leslie Marmon Silko, Buchi Emecheta, and Simon J. Ortiz. As Ortiz reminds us over and over again, what we need to know is actually very simple and, thereby, profound in that simplicity: "He thought about stone, water, fire, and air. / And he had to believe it was possible--some men / didn't know or had forgotten."1
        Three common elements pervade the work of each of these writers: a commitment to this world and the betterment of people's lives, a sense of the sonorous harmony and power of orality and storytelling, and a conscious respect of and engagement with the sacred in its various manifestations. Each of these writers brings the wisdom and history of their respective ancestral traditions interwoven with {4} the joy and beauty of creation. Whether it is Lorine working scrubbing floors while producing remarkable poetry in the traditions of Dickinson and Williams; or Sophocles creating Oedipus at Colonnus as an eighty-year-old man; Paul Laurence Dunbar and Buchi Emecheta, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, crossing lines of race and gender to cry their people's hopes and suffering; or Solomon, Wittgenstein, and Jabés articulating their diverse Judaic traditions with humor and pain; in the work of each of these souls, there is a magic here that their readers can touch, that has oral texture, that in its deepest sense is ennobling in its reminder of our humanity in this world of ours. This is what Ortiz's writing does, too. In his recent poetry collection Out There Somewhere, there is an Acoma poem whose English language title is "This Is the Way Still We Shall Go On" in which Ortiz tells us: "It is necessary to look back to the past. / Gazing we will see how our peoples in the past lived, / . . . / We who are living today, that is what we are to be guided by";2 and a few pages later in "It Is No Longer the Same as It Was in the Olden Days": "We must continue to be. / It is necessary. / With courage [. . .] / That is the way still we must keep on going."3
        This issue of SAIL begins with new work by Ortiz, an excerpt from a larger manuscript. It is important to begin with Simon's own words and with his offering that speaks of the desecration and destruction of "Three round kivas. Walls of stone. / . . . the uncovered homesite. / Kaamah-tsaishruuh. A sacred place"4--a destruction that paved the way for the very interstate highway that so many of us traveled on our ways to Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico. An earlier yet previously unpublished interview with Ortiz by University of New Mexico Professor David Dunaway is next. Although this interview is from 1988, it is especially helpful in juxtaposition with the essays and tribute pieces that follow. I decided to begin and end this collection with two elders in the field of native literary study: Roger Dunsmore and Carter Revard. The first three essays by Dunsmore, Sarah Ann Wider, and David L. Moore were first presented, along with a reading by Simon, at the MLA session devoted to Simon's work. This session initiated the work towards this issue, and it is fitting that these essays, too, come first.
        The next selections turn to the early years that led to what has been called the Native American Literary Renaissance. Joy Harjo, Evelina Zuni Lucero, and Laura Tohe share moving stories from those times, powerfully articulating the crucial role Simon Ortiz played in the development of the burgeoning field of native literatures and in the lives of so many native writers. From Arizona, Joni Adamson speaks directly to Simon's role in his commitment to environmental justice issues in the southwest. From these voices, the next set of longer essays by literature scholars follows. P. Jane Hafen begins this group with an essay that emphasizes the importance of "Centering the Voice of Simon Ortiz" within his tribal and, more broadly, Pueblo historical and cultural traditions. Kenneth M. Roemer turns specifically to Acoma Pueblo (Aacqu) in an essay that, like Dunsmore's, looks at the building of a wall, its care and deliberation (which contrasts sharply with the destruction of those walls and kivas in "Children of Fire, Children of Water"). This group of essays ends with Patrice Hollrah's piece that places Ortiz's "resistance and continuance" within a cultural framework.
        The next three pieces offer the voices of a younger generation of writers and scholars. With her beautiful and poignant poem "Morning Star Song," Kimberly Roppolo (one of the new generation of native writers and scholars) honors Ortiz's past and continuing legacy. Her poem is followed by a tribute from Daniel Heath Justice who speaks as a young native colleague of Simon's at the University of Toronto. Dartmouth graduate student Matthew E. Duquès writes of the regenerative power of Ortiz's work and its vital importance for his high school students on the Navajo reservation. The final grouping begins with poetry scholar Robin Riley Fast who echoes Duquès in her tribute to Simon's commitment to "the restorative potential in the human spirit and in the natural world." This issue concludes with three scholars who have given much to further the field of native literary study, Kathryn Shanley, Robert Nelson, and Carter Revard. Kate Shanley reminds us that in Simon's writing, we are offered stories that move beyond indigenous survival and towards a sacred "space of grace and forgiveness." Both Nelson and Revard also show us the transforming power of Simon's work that touches people's lives, deeply {6} and generationally: each turning to the origins of life in the formation and birth of a child.
        In the pages that follow, each reader is invited as a listener-reader to step into the worlds engendered by Simon Ortiz's life and work. As the centripetal force within this issue, each essay, story, and poem interweaves with the others as part of the larger, unfolding story of what I see as a categorically radical shift in the present and future of written literature, literary scholarship, and higher learning. Simon reminds all of us over and over again of our crucial responsibilities to our communities and to recognize that our communities include the whole world, that our work must be integrally committed to the betterment of human lives, that we must be anxiously concerned with our times and each other. Art for art's sake has no place here. Ivory towers are irrelevant. New paradigms are emerging. The scholarship herein is important, not only because it helps us to understand Simon's work more fully, which it does, but also because it shows us the future of an engaged and integrally conversive scholarship. Simon reminds us of the importance of work that is transforming, and all of the writers in this issue, too, do so through their respective poetic, storied, and essayed insights into the life and work of Simon J. Ortiz. Each piece is one story and part of the larger story that unfolds itself throughout these pages and, more importantly, throughout the writing and life of Simon. This is scholarship that steps varyingly outside the more staid and distanced critical theories of "the western tradition." Each offering herein speaks with an intersubjective voice that speaks from knowledge that is both reasoned and heartfelt and, thereby, informed by the deep quality of Simon's storytelling voice that strengthens and encourages us all toward a creative writing and scholarship that is integrally invested in the good of the world.
        Ortiz speaks the realities of one Acoma man's, of indigenous people's, and possibly all people's lives and struggles in the face of colonizing oppression and genocide that is horrifically relevant on a global scale today. Simon's writing is poetry for his Acoma and Pueblo people. It is poetry for all native peoples. It is poetry for indigenous peoples worldwide. It is poetry for us all. Simon is remarkable as a poet, a storyteller, an educator, and an activist. When I look at the {7} range of his writing, I see the future of global literatures . . . and also the glimmer of new directions for philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, and folklore and language studies. It makes poignant sense that, as Alexie points out, Simon has been understudied and underappreciated. Simon's work, both ancient and new, opens up worlds that few in academia today are prepared to understand and evaluate clearly. In this issue of SAIL, nineteen scholars and writers help us to understand the place of Simon J. Ortiz at the beginning of this twenty-first century CE.
        I would like to thank all those whose voices and persons and words inform this issue: scholars and writers alike. I would also like to thank all those whose support helped move this volume forward and whose voices are in these pages in spirit if not in writing: Alex Kuo, Sherman Alexie, Ellen Arnold, Dean Rader, Gwen Griffin, Kimberly Blaeser, Gordon Henry, Philip Red Eagle, Robin Riley Fast, Bernard Hirsch, Joyzelle Godfrey, Kate Winona Shanley, Deborah Miranda, Ginny Carney, Susan Scarberry-García, Janice Gould, Jeff Berglund, Ron Welburn, Andrew Wiget, as well as those at the SAIL helm and main office, editor Malea Powell, L. Rain Cranford, Mark Wojcik, and Tina Urbain, and Mary Johnson for her thorough copyediting. Evelina Zuni Lucero provided additional editorial assistance with final changes to the introduction. I thank you all. Finally, as a Bahá'i, it is important that I thank God for being able to be of service in bringing this issue of SAIL together. This introduction concludes with a selected bibliography of Simon Ortiz's published volumes over the years.


        1. Ortiz, After and Before the Lightning, 38.
        2. Ortiz, Out There Somewhere, 92.
        3. Ortiz, Out There Somewhere, 98.
        4. Ortiz, "Excerpt from `Children of Fire, Children of Water: Memory and Trauma,'" SAIL 16.4 (Winter 2004): 9-11.


The Good Rainbow Road. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2004.

Out There Somewhere. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002.

From Sand Creek. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2000; New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1981.

Men On the Moon: Collected Short Stories. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1999.

Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1998.

Telling and Showing Her: The Earth, The Land. Buffalo, NY: Just Buffalo, 1995.

After and Before the Lightning. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1994.

Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People. Los Angeles: PBS Home Video, 1992. Narrative by Simon Ortiz.

Woven Stone. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992.

The People Shall Continue. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 1988.

A Good Journey. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1984, 1977.

Earth Power Coming: Short Fiction in Native American Literature. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College P, 1983.

Fightin': New and Collected Stories. Chicago: Thunder's Mouth, 1983.

Blue and Red. Acoma, NM: Pueblo of Acoma P, 1982.

A Poem is a Journey. Bourbonnais, IL: Pternandon P, 1981.

A Ceremony of Brotherhood, 1680-1980. Ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya and Simon J. Ortiz. Albuquerque, NM: Academia, 1981.

Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land. Albuquerque: INAD--Native American Studies, University of New Mexico, 1980.

Song, Poetry, Language: Expression and Perception. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College P, 1978.

Going for the Rain: Poems. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

Naked in the Wind. Pembroke, NC: Quetzal-Vihio P, 1971.


Excerpt from "Children of Fire, Children of Water: Memory and Trauma"

SIMON J. ORTIZ         

Three round kivas. Walls of stone.
Upright and perpendicular to sky.
And to the land sloping away
to the east where flood waters
from Kaweshtima flowed.
Dirt under our shoes.
Dirt on our hands.
We looked at the uncovered homesite.
Kaamah-tsaishruuh. A sacred place.
Holy homeplace. Stone walls.
I didn't know what to say to Larry.
What could I say?
What could I explain?
Duwaa-sha-ah haatse.
This is our land.
He was four years old in 1960.
I was nineteen years old in 1960.
This is our land.
An uncle guide, advisor, counselor.
Protector and teacher.
What could I say?
What is the explanation then?
Is there any explanation possible?
A highway is to be built through here.
Our ancestors lived here long ago.
Baabahtitra eh Naanahtitra.
Grandmothers and Grandfathers.
They built the kivas and the walls.
Now another people have come.
They have gained right of way.
Soon the kamaah-tsaishruuh will vanish.
What kind explanation is that?

In 1999 my lawyer son could have gone to prison upon conviction of a felony charge he was facing. For assaulting another Indian lawyer with a knife. There was alcohol involved. You've heard it before. It is an old story. It has become a classic story. Yes, you've heard it before. I'm sure you have. It is Indian fighting Indian. It is a colonized man fighting another colonized man. Like I said, it's an old story. When the legal and judicial process was ended and things had settled down, my son came "home" to speak with his mother and me. Afterward he returned to his job in Washington, D.C., and tried to put the sundered pieces of his life together again. Soon I received a letter from him, saying, "I want to come home." It was a plaintive, simple statement: I want to come home. The plaintive and simple statement became a question for me: Where and what is home anymore? For a Native American, where and what is "home" anymore? Before the reservation system was put into place by the federal government, Indigenous lands were homelands. That was where home was. It was easy to know where home was. But after Indigenous lands were designated reservations, the idea of home changed. The plaintive and simple statement became an ambiguous question: Has the concept of "home" changed so much for Indian people they do not know what they are talking about? And further, it has become the question: What's home anymore?
        My four-year-old nephew Larry stood by the open pit of the Indigenous "ruin," looking into the circular kivas and staring at the upright stone walls that had been violated by the researchers who peceded the construction engineers. And that would soon be obliterated by the interstate highway construction. Piles of sand, clay, crumbled stone, and tiny bits of shattered pottery shards lay to the {11} side in mounds. Archeological and anthropological researchers had been there from the local university. The mounds were their debris. As his teacher, adviser, counselor, protector, what could I say to my beloved nephew Larry? What could I explain? This is the land of our ancestor grandmothers and grandfathers. Therefore this land is our land too. Could I say that? Should I have said that? Could I explain and identify who tore open the kaamah-tsaishruh, the sacred place? Who could I say gave the permission for the destruction to happen? What was the authority cited when the walls of the ancient homesite were destroyed? What kind of explanation would that have been?


"Children of Fire, Children of Water" is a collaborative, dialogic creative nonfiction project currently being written by Simon J. Ortiz, University of Toronto, and Gabriella Schwab, University of California-Irvine.


An Interview with Simon Ortiz

July 14, 1988


SIMON ORTIZ: My family comes from the Acoma Pueblo reservation west of Albuquerque and, specifically, at McCartys on the New Mexico state maps, right off the Interstate 40.

DAVID DUNAWAY: Did you grow up in Acoma?

SO: I grew up in the Acoma Pueblo community, at McCartys. McCartys is one of the villages, the other village is Acomita, and other additional small settlements at Anzac and some newer ones. I grew up there for the first twenty years of my life.

DD: So what was McCartys and the Acoma community like in the '40s and '50s?

SO: It was the war, World War II, of course, and the life there was sort of on the edge of something new happening. The war was going on, I remember that there were young men who were uniform, going off somewhere, to California, wherever that was, and there were trains passing on the railroad, which runs about a mile north of my mother's house, and there were always these war things going up and down, west and east, and things happening like that.
        Acoma and McCartys, the little village, was very small at that time, and it didn't seem to be any more world out there except what was passing through. It was a very small community and I grew up within the community which was family, clan, grandparents, mother, and father. Although, obviously, changes that had been taking place for many, many decades and in the past two hundred or so years--three hundred or so years--was very much impressioned upon me as a {13} child of the 1940s. There was something going on, mysterious, and, of course, somewhat fearful.
        I found that when I started school that this world that was outside of Acoma and McCartys was so different, because most of that world and the exposure that I had to it was through reading--what I read, anyway, in the pages in the schoolbooks--was not really the Acoma and the Indian world in general. It was always some white-picket-fence in the West, or perhaps in California. When I was very young, things were changing so fast. The atomic bomb was exploded right at the beginning of my life. I was born in 1941, right at the beginning of that war. And in 1945 and the changes that were wrought by the war, and especially the bomb, you know, are a part of the history that I was living. I didn't really know it, of course, as a child, just that it was happening. I think that the changes were exemplified by school, by the railroad, and the men, leaving. My father was a railroad worker. I didn't learn any English until I went to school at McCartys's day school, which was then a BIA federal school, when I was six, seven years old.

DD: Was it a rural environment?

SO: Very much so. Pueblo Indian people traditionally are agricultural people, cultivating the land with the traditional crops of corn, chile, pumpkin, beans, squash, those kinds of things. Bottom lands along the Rio de San Jose, which originates in the Zuni Mountains, were used for the growing of these crops, and then dry-farming in the Acoma valley, which is twelve more miles to the south, which is the traditional home--mother home site--of the Acoma people.
        I was born actually at the old Albuquerque Indian Hospital, here, in Albuquerque, and from there on I lived at home until I was about nineteen, when I went away to school--college--for the first time. In a couple of those years, because my father was a railroad worker for the Santa Fe Railroad, we lived in California, I think, when I was very young, when I was a baby. And then later on, when I was in the fifth grade, I remember, we went to Skull Valley, to go to school for one year. And then there were, I think, several occasions, briefly, when we went to California again, to be with my father. A lot of the employment for wage income was for the railroad in the 1940s.
        So, after nineteen years of age, I've been away from the Acoma homeland, until last year, in 1987, when I returned to live at McCartys. Much of my work as a writer, as a teacher, takes me away from home, obviously, but there is always, and has always been, I think, with all the Acoma people, and, perhaps, with all the Indian people in the country, a real connection and a real sense of home, and it's always with the community, as a society and the community as a people, and land, the environment, cultural, spiritual, political, social, economic, and so forth.

DD: Do you recall any groups of artists that you particularly enjoyed listening to when you were young?

so: My father was a singer, in the Acoma tradition. He made songs and he sang songs that were from the ageless tradition. My mother also was a singer; she sang, also Acoma songs that are part of stories, hunting songs with my father--hunting prayer songs when my father would go hunting in the fall time. And she also sang church music. The Catholic church, of course, is very prominent in the pueblo communities, and I learned church songs, the Catholic ritual, the Gregorian chants back when. And, over the radio, I remember songs--early Elvis, you know, of course that was later on in the mid-fifties or so. But songs, popular music. Jimmy Dorsey, you know. Tommy Dorsey, those kinds. And, of course, since my sisters were teenagers, you know, they sang songs that they learned from the radio. He would sing railroad songs, folk songs from Jimmy Rogers or older folk songs, set into the context of the Acoma cultural life.

DD: Could you tell us a little bit about Acoma storytelling?

SO: The tradition of storytelling is part of the whole general oral tradition. The oral tradition is not necessarily only stories, but stories of say, the olden times, or another time before us, or the generation before our present ones. . . . The oral tradition also includes advice and counsel, that is, those items told to you by your elders to ensure that you are living responsibly, that the relationships among family members are correct and according to Acoma ways of life. There's also, of course, stories told to children to make sure that they're attentive to the principles or philosophies of the Acoma, and historical stories that include a look at the Spanish civilization or settlement or colonization that occurred.
        Essentially I think everything is story--in the sense that the tradition out of which poetry comes, and song comes, is like the story of the life of a people. That is, the culture survives because of the story of its birth, and goes on into its development and goes on to the end of a cycle. One's personal life, for example, begins with birth, although his personal story is only a continuation of a larger story; joined in with that, it becomes a part of it and helps to continue it. The sense of a story for me is important at least in two respects. One is that it's a kind of a lifeline that connects the individual, me, back to that larger story. Two, it also expresses for American Indian people something very distinct, in terms of culture, language, kind of social structure, traditions, and so forth.
        Stories in terms of what is written down--printed literature--is usually seen as very authoritative and defined and scripted according to certain rules. The oral tradition, which is the source of myth, of mythology, is a sense of the spiritual reality that all life is quite different. The oral tradition, in a sense, insists upon that affirmation of life. The Western culture's written literature is a kind of definition of life rather than the essence of life, which the oral tradition is, so that the mythology is more than just, say, legends or tales or stories that have limited definition. Rather, it's literature--I'll go ahead and use literature to refer to these oral traditional texts--rather, this kind of literature has a spiritual dimension that doesn't necessarily, say, only evoke a creative source, but rather includes that creative source with what one's endeavors are as a human being.
        Poetry is a part of that story as a form of the oral tradition. I think that the oral tradition lends itself very well to the narrative form of story, or the narratives that stories are. And poetry is certainly included within prayer and song, a sense of spirituality, a sense of being connected so inexplicably and forever to that whole general story of life as we live and know it and practice it. I think poetry is essentially story or language, language being an energy that forms us and also at the same time is the essence of how we come into being. Poetry being a part of language, then, is a part of this story of how we come into being.
        In other words, the stories of this literature, of the mythic propor-{16}tion, verify my existence right now. If I know the story and accept the story of the creation as told, as spoken, in that creative act of many millions and millions, trillions of years ago when life began as atomic activity. . . . They're true. And, if I accept them as true--when I accept them as true, then my existence is true. The literature, even the great masterworks of Western literature, has an entirely different purpose. It's more to define and even to limit it. Yet I think the oral tradition out of which the present-day texts, ceremonial texts, come from, really lets us realize ourselves, absolutely and completely.
        Language has a kind of neutrality at its very essence. There are different Indian languages in New Mexico: Navajo, and several pueblo languages spoken. These are the languages that were here when the Spanish conquest settlement introduced European language and then later English and then others. Obviously people's language changes as they learn it, but I think that values and perspectives continue as long as there's not, say, political force and domination that begins to limit it.
        The use of English as a political colonizing tool--weapon--was very useful to the settlement after the 1800s, in this part of the Southwest. This of course has changed the native, indigenous cultures of the United States Indian America. There are many Indian people out there who are multilingual. People that are at Acoma, at Santo Domingo, at Taos, at Jemez, who are, say, ceremonial, spiritual elders, leaders, who speak English very well--maybe better than me--who speak Spanish also, certainly better than me, who may speak other Indian languages, and yet they're still within their traditional selves that they've always been. So it's a contradiction perhaps, but I think that you have to recognize that the political nature of language can be--is--really what limits us.
        Southwestern writers have a kind of consciousness that leads us to share identifiable images, metaphors that could only be Southwestern geographically. This, in terms of an identifiable place, makes us Southwestern writers. If there is a kind of interface [among Southwestern writers], it is struggle. I mean, the Southwest is essentially still a territory, colonized territory, colonial territory, so to speak. And I know that John Nichols with his own work tries to bring this out: the idea {17} that the land here and the lifestyle culturally that has been lived by for centuries and thousands of years must resist the more destructive changes brought by Western expansionism, including even by the railroads, by land developers, by uranium exploitation, by Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories and the lack of planning and purely for economic profit, affecting people's long-term lives and cultures.
        For me, the landscape is just one vast, engulfing, enclosing place. The far mountains, blue in the distance, the canyon lands, red, brown, orange, yellow. The plateau or semi-arid vistas, something so much forever and yet outlined in stark relief, giving it a sense of immediacy--so that that sense of vista is not only one of distance--out there--but also inside. And then, the landscape has given obvious inspiration to the art forms that have evolved, the architecture of the Pueblo people in an earlier, earlier tradition and epochs, you know, the cliff dwellings, the working with stone so that it's part of the landscape. The music, obviously, and the songs, using the drum and the songs which are muted, evoking a sense of that same cooperation or adjustment and inspiration by the landscape to have a certain style and form and content.
        I think that literature that refers to definite place names in the landscape, certain colors, the browns, and the dryness of the land--which I use: the images of blue skies that wait, like me, for rain to come from the west, and seeing the desert or our homeland transformed when the rain does fall--those kinds of environmental influences bring about inspiration. And more than that, the sense of how we have to live in a relationship with the land. The land is severe in some respects. It's hot, and it's pretty cold in the winter, and people faced with these forces can only be wise to respond appropriately, and to utilize those forces of nature. I think this lends a certain kind of linguistic outlook that also has that sense of economy--breathing in only a certain way, a sense of rhythm that evokes not grandiosity as a response, but certainly taking very great care with what you do, with what you have in this sparse, arid land.
        When I first began to see myself as a writer, there were really no Native American writers. I've been writing for a long time. When I {18} first became conscious of this specific use of words in writing, I was a writer; and maybe even before that I was a writer. By the time I was, say, twelve or thirteen, I had started to make up songs--folk, country, and western songs--singing along with the radio, you know, improvising, singing little things. I think by the time I was that age I also had published my first Mother's Day poem . . .
        I would romanticize myself as a beginning writer, had an ambition. That's when I fashioned myself that I would have a kind of grandiose stature, I don't know, an Acoma Hemingway or something. [laughs] You know how impressionable young people are. But there were really no models at all that were Native American. The models that were there were the popular American ones, at least that we were taught in school: Hemingway, Faulkner, the poets Whitman, Carl Sandberg, Robert Frost. But Sandberg, obviously, and Whitman, who I felt spoke of a real America. I think that socially conscious and socially committed writers--Theodore Dreiser, realists like Hammond Garland, Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis--these people were my models. Later on, in the 1960s, when I became aware of Native American writers, and I looked for them, we were all more or less contemporaries. N. Scott Momaday, the Kiowa novelist and poet, was a student here at the University of New Mexico back in the late 1950s, early 1960s. He was a model eventually, but then we're at the same time, contemporaries. Jim Welch, Leslie Silko, actually we all came along about the same time. We were interdependent models for each other. Inspirations, anyway.

DD: Why weren't we hearing those voices in the 1950s?

SO: Repression, mainly. Subtle repression and maybe not-so-subtle repression through the schools, the public school policy being that indeed there are no Native Americans: "they're all a vanishing race, right?" "There are no Native Americans east of the Mississippi." In fact, the Native Americans in the United States are not real "Indians," they're Indians who aren't "Indians" anymore because, well, they don't ride the painted ponies and live in teepees.
        That was a method of repression: a nonacceptance, nonrecognition, much less respect, nonsensitivity to Native American people and culture and ways of life. Obviously, within the communities, there were {19} Indian people who kept telling the stories, who kept the ceremonies, who kept advising and counsel to the young, who kept the prayers. Even under the most severe of repressive activities by state law, by church law or dictum, by federal law. And so this resulted in a real dark age for Native American literature. There was no encouragement of Indian expressiveness in writing; there was some in painting and sculpture.
        Culture and self-government are necessarily one thing. I think people would prefer to see culture as something separate and self-government as another thing that's a political entity. But the fact is that Indian people as self-sufficient peoples can only be so when their interests and concerns with sovereignty are regarded as a concern with culture as well. The fact of an integral culture means an integral sovereignty. That's one of my concerns.


Simon Ortiz and the Lyricism of Continuance

"For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land"


I started out to write this piece honoring Simon's work by taking a close look at his widely anthologized, much loved, early poem, "My Father's Song." I wanted to show how such a deeply personal short poem expressed that preeminent value, continuance, which he invokes to focus native tradition and resistance beyond mere survival. But along the way I got ambushed. I got ambushed by his father, by poems and statements about his father and his father's influence on his work. I was easy to ambush because in an eighteen-month time period a year and a half ago, I lost four fathers: First, my wife's father, then, thirty-seven days later, my father, eight months later, my mentor, the philosopher Henry Bugbee who brought me to Montana, and six months later, Buster Yellow Kidney, the Blackfeet elder and my friend. So Simon's statements about his father would not leave me alone. And the continuance (a word I initially resisted due to its abstract quality) that he invokes so eloquently probably has no more direct and forceful path than through the parents and grandparents, in this case, through the father.
        I want to look at his father as a stone-worker, as a carver, as a singer, and at the influence of these on Simon as a writer. There is an early poem, "A Story of How a Wall Stands," in which his father explains the care, the mystery, and the mastery of weaving stone into a wall for a graveyard at Aacqu. The picture we are offered of this stone-working craft is created by his father's hands as he shows Simon the motions these hands must make in the making of stone walls.
        At Aacqu there is a wall
        almost 400 years old
        which supports hundreds
        of tons of dirt and bones--
        it's a graveyard built on a
        steep incline--and it looks
        like it's about to fall down
        the incline but will not for
        a long time.

        My father, who works with stone,
        says, "That's just the part you see,
        the stones which seem to be
        just packed in on the outside,"
        and with his hands puts the stone and mud
        in place. "Underneath what looks like loose stone,
        there is stone woven together."
        He ties one hand over the other,
        fitting like the bones of his hands
        and fingers. "That's what is
        holding it together."

        "It is built that carefully,"
        he says, "The mud mixed
        to a certain texture," patiently
        "with the fingers," worked
        in the palm of his hand. So that
        placed between the stones, they hold
        together for a long, long time.

        He tells me these things,
        the story of them worked
        with his fingers, in the palm
        of his hands, working the stone
        and the mud until they become
        the wall that stands a long, long time. (Woven Stone 145)

{22} What's crucial about this particular wall is its support of hundreds of tons of dirt and bones on a steep incline--for 400 years--its being the wall for containing the bones of the ancestors at Aacqu. The craft skills, the understanding, the qualities of patience and carefulness, reside in his father's hand-bones as their movements tell the story of the wall--stones woven together with mud. The story of how a wall stands might also be the story of how a people stand, on the steep incline of history. For any wall, especially one on an incline, is a balancing act, stones standing amidst the forces of time and gravity and shifts in the ground that might bring them down. The bones inside his father's hands know this story and these forces; and they know the supreme value of a certain texture of mud that must be mixed if the stones are to hold together, in time and space, and with the people, the ancestors, the unborn. The title of Simon's volume collecting his first four books of poetry, Woven Stone, is taken directly from this poem, and from the sense that his own written work must contain the craft of weaving stones and mud, hand bones and emotion, only with words, weaving tradition into the present, as others have done in stone, cloth, mud, song for countless generations.
        Simon makes this point clearly in his biographical essay, "The Language We Know," in I Tell You Now:

Our family lived in a two-room home (built by my grandfather shortly after he and my grandmother moved with their daughters from Old Acoma), which my father added rooms to later. I remember my father's work at enlarging our home for our growing family. He was a skilled stoneworker, like many other men of an older Pueblo generation who worked with sandstone and mud motar [sic] to build their homes and pueblos. It takes time, persistence, patience, and the belief that the walls that come to stand will do so for a long, long time, perhaps even forever. I like to think that by helping to mix mud and carry stone for my father and other elders I managed to bring that influence into my consciousness as a writer. (188-89)

        The awareness that his consciousness as a writer has been influenced by helping to mix mud and carry stone as a child who takes {23} part in something enduring in the life of the people, is at the heart of Simon's strength as a writer, is itself an act of continuance. The act of writing must contain the act of stone-working, just as the wall standing at Aacqu contains the bones of the ancestors. One thinks of the well-known story of the Navajo students who were given video cameras and asked to make their own documentary on the craft of weaving, how they filmed the grasses, the plants, the sheep, the mesas and the clouds, all that the weaving contained.
        A further look at the influence of his father's craft skills on his writing comes from Simon's essay "Song/Poetry and Language--(Expression and Perception)" in Symposium of the Whole:

My father carves, dancers usually. What he does is find the motion of Deer, Buffalo, Eagle dancing in the form and substance of the wood [. . .] and his sinewed hands touch the wood very carefully, searching and knowing.
His movements are very deliberate. He holds the Buffalo Dancer in the piece of cottonwood poised on the edge of his knee, and he traces--almost caresses--the motion of the Dancer's crook of the right elbow, the way it is held just below midchest, and flicks a cut with the razor-edged carving knife. And he does it again. He knows exactly where it is at that point in a Buffalo Dance Song, the motion of elbow, arm, body and mind.
He clears his throat a bit and he sings, and the song comes from that motion of his carving, his sitting, the sinews in his hands and face and the song itself. His voice is full-toned and wealthy, all the variety and nuance of motion in the sounds and phrases of the words are active in it; there is just a bit of tremble from his thin chest. (399-400)

        In this memory of his father carving, Simon shows us the wholeness of the act--that wholeness involves knowledge of the exact motion of the dancer's body and mind, of the motion in the body of the piece of wood being held in his hands, the motion of the Buffalo itself being sung/danced, in and by his hands, mind, knife, even by his sit-{24}ting. It is no surprise, then, that later on in the essay when Simon asks his father about a particular word he has used in speech or song,

"What does it break down to? I mean, breaking it down to the syllables of sound or phrases of sound, what do each of these parts mean?" And he has looked at me with an exasperated--slightly pained--expression on his face, wondering what I mean. And he tells me, "It doesn't break down into anything."
        For him, the word does not break down into any of the separate elements that I expect. The word he has said is complete. (400)

        The father's act of language is complete, just as the act of carving. It is this older sense of completeness in word, in song, or in carving that Simon strives to bring over into his writing, and this is not something learned at school.
        Later in this same essay he elaborates this sense of completeness in reference to song, to his father's singing, which we saw as a part of his carving. But first he tells a funny story about an older man named Page who went along with a hunting party as the camp cook because his eyesight wasn't so good. At one point Page thinks he is tracking a big deer when he is actually tracking a pig, which he goes ahead and shoots. For the rest of his life his nephews ask him, "Uncle, tell us about that time the pig was your deer." This story is to remind us, I suspect, that humor, too, is as much a part of a hunt, or of a poetics, as anything else. He goes on to say about song:

The song as expression is an opening from inside of yourself to outside and outside of yourself to inside, but not in the sense that there are separate states of yourself. Instead, it is a joining and an opening together. Song is the experience of that opening [. . .]
When my father sings a song, he tries to instill a sense of awareness about us. Although he may remark upon the progressive steps in a song, he does not separate the steps or components of the song. The completeness of the song is the important thing. {25} He makes me aware of these things because it is important, not only for the song itself but because it is coming from the core of who my father is, and he is talking about how it is for him in relationship with all things.
A song, a poem, becomes real in that manner. You learn its completeness. [. . .] You learn a song in the way that you are supposed to learn a language, as expression and as experience. (404-05)

        And finally,

My father tells me, "This song is a hunting song: listen." He sings and I listen. He may sing it again, and I hear it again. The feeling that I perceive is not only contained in the words; there is something surrounding the song, and it includes us. It is the relationship that we share with each other and with everything else. And that's the feeling that makes the song real and meaningful and which makes his singing and my listening more than just a teaching and learning situation. (406-07)

       When Simon was in Montana last April for a lecture and reading I asked him, naively, why he used the word song in the title of the poem, "My Father's Song," since it was a story. As answer, he directed me to another short poem, "My Father Singing," from late in his second book, A Good Journey. The poem goes like this:

        My father says,
        "This song, I like it
        for this one old man."
        And my father moves
        his shoulders, arms
        and hands when he sings
        the song.
        My father says,
        "When the old man
        danced this song,
        I liked it for him." (Woven Stone 264)

        Simon then said, "It isn't so much his song as the way he moved his body when he talked, his body gestures," and he got up from where we were sitting outside, and moved his shoulders, arms and hands, moved his whole body in gestures like his father's, and said, "It was like this that he moved when he spoke, that's why I call it his song." His father's body danced its affection in him, the son, remembering his father's life as motion and sound and emotion together, the father's life continuing in these gestures of affection "for this one old man who used to like to sing--and he danced like this" ("Song/
Poetry" 407). This connection between sound and motion, and emotion, between singing and dancing and telling an affectionate story, is inherent in Ortiz's way of receiving and giving experience. It lends to his poems an active silence that we feel in and with the words.

My existence has been determined by language, [he says], not only the spoken, but the unspoken, the language of speech and the language of motion. [. . .] Memory, immediate and far away in the past, something in the sinew, blood, ageless cell. Although I don't recall the exact moment I spoke or tried to speak, I know the feeling of something tugging at the core of the mind, something unutterable uttered into existence. (I Tell You Now, 187)

        In these descriptions of his father carving, singing, talking about language or explaining how a stone wall stands, Simon Ortiz has suggested a Pueblo Poetics--and reveals his father as a primary inspiration for his work as a writer. We see the completeness of voice and self that is at the core of what Simon's work continues, how such voice embodies the language of movement--the muscles and sinews, the way the skin is wrinkled, even how one sits being a part of it, the way a person is moved by the whole of the heritage he or she carries, as well as by their own individual nature and experience. This language of motion that he says has shaped him reminds us of a comment by Gary Witherspoon, in Language And Art In the Navajo Universe, that the Navajos have over 350,000 conjugations of the verb "to go," so important a part of their world is the experience of motion.
In closing, I want to quote a note to my students that I scribbled on the inside cover of my almost decade old copy of Woven Stone and dated December 11, 1995:

When I say Simon Ortiz is the most important poet writing in America today, I mean (to borrow a phrase from Jason, a wilderness student who went on to receive Rabbinical training)--I mean that Simon's poetry is thoroughly prayerful--full of prayers and praising. And prayerful in a way that works today because that isn't the result of any doctrine or creed or religion. It is an extension of thousands of years of dry land farming culture in what is now called the Southwest, and the pain of five centuries of colonialism. He knows the loss because he has lived it--he also knows the life, the renewal, the fertile power in everything, including us. And he just tells it, sings it, moves it in language so that all the time it is praying, praising, respecting, alive, living. Always, even in anger, Simon Ortiz has "gone for the rain."

        I want to add a couple of points to this statement. First, what makes this prayerful or sacramental quality so powerful in his work is that it does not call attention to itself as such, is left unstated and takes place almost casually in the course of writing about seemingly ordinary events--like the standing of a stone wall or moving mice out of a cornfield or bringing home a skinny dog. Second, these poems also are an extension of the "ferociousness" with which the Acoma Pueblo people have "held to their history, culture, language and land despite [. . .] the forces surrounding them since [. . .] the advent of Euro-American colonization" ("The Language We Know" 187). We must learn to listen for that "something that surrounds the song"; to listen for that "something more than memory or remembering that is at stake," we must catch the language of motion/emotion, and, if we are to have a regard for "the sacredness of language," we must, like old man Page, know when to let a pig become our deer.



Ortiz, Simon. Woven Stone. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992. 145, 264.

------. "Song/Poetry and Language--(Expression and Perception)." Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics. Ed. Jerome Rothenberg and Dianne Rothenberg. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 399-407.

------. "The Language We Know." I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers. Ed. Brian Swan and Arnold Krupat. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987. 185-94.

Witherspoon, Gary. Language and Art in the Navajo Universe. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1977.


Maps of the Universe


At age four, my daughter colored motion. She swept circles around the page, starting with yellow or blue; first this color, then that, adding in others as desired. That year Simon Ortiz came "back East" to the school where I teach, to meet with my classes, to give a reading, to enjoy a few days of spring in upstate New York. We held a dinner at our house, and my daughter, not known for her enjoyment of large gatherings, came into the room with a picture she had just finished and handed it to Simon. Looking at its swirls of color and motion, he said, "A map of the cosmos."
        In his poem "Across the Prairie Hills" from After and Before the Lightning, Simon recalls his f  ather's words:

        You make one
        when you prepare to travel.
        So you will always know
        where you are, to where to return.
        Haitsee, a map of the universe. (21-22)

In celebration of Simon's work, I look closely at the maps he creates in and through his writing. They describe where the characters, the speakers, the readers are; they suggest where those individuals might need to return (as for example in the stories "Woman Singing" and "Crossing"). They are maps, not itineraries, and yet they are filled with motion, with travel, with the energy that language is.
        These maps arise from and belong to a particular location; they {30} are of and from the margin. While the word has often been associated with loss or silence, Simon delineates a different landscape, one in which the margin is the open space or opens the space between divisive borders. In the margins people meet and talk and walk and plan. The place is vital, rife with the life of those who have stepped--or been pushed--out of bounds.1
        Such space is rarely easy or comfortable. More often than not, it is dead difficult, filled with the voices of raging women and wailing men. Where does a person go when the mainstream washes them out? World trade centers collapse. Government officials talk war--and mean it; all their imaginations yield. Words spoken loudly in September echo brutally off the realities of the United States' divided history. They march into March with no end in sight. My now-eight-year-old daughter reads a Scholastic news article about the State of the Union address and asks me why the president is declaring war yet again. Retaliation. Vengeance. Words spoken by men who know nothing--or refuse to know nothing--of Sand Creek or the Navajo Long Walk or the men at Acoma mutilated because they sought back their way of life.
        Where does a person go when borders are closed, and they have become military and defensible, when the guns are trained on any one who crosses? In the American Southwest that is no new reality. Where does one go? Unbelievably and essentially into the margin, the space between the borders. You head closer to the sky as the Pueblo peoples did facing Spanish retaliation after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. You go underground. You go, however you can, into print and try to keep your good words there--out there in No Man's Land for those readers who know there is power in language, power to describe and connect and unite people in a shared vision.
        That's where Simon has been, has taken his readers for the last thirty years. His poetics are inseparable from an ethical commitment that heightens awareness into action. That action is fundamentally considerate. It brooks no man-made hierarchy. When you listen, there is another reality, as Simon's readers are given to know, and as those individuals held in life by Simon's words are given to know. In the poem "Crazy Gook Indians," Emmett is laughed at by the foreman {31} for his reaction in the mines but the reader knows why Emmett responds as he does. Emmett's friend Danny explains,

        in Section 30
        one afternoon, we blasted
        and my partner, Emmett, thought
        we were back in Vietnam,
        back in the tunnels,
        after the enemy, you know.
        He picked up that drill like it was an M-60
        and tried to defend us against
        the shift boss who'd been in the Marines too. (Woven Stone 304)

       While Danny holds Emmett in his arms, comforting him mother to child, brother to brother, the boss laughs, enjoying the joke so much he repeats it for the superintendent. With Danny, the reader concludes, "I guess I should have let my partner / defend us against that Marine" (Woven Stone 304).
        In "Howbah Indians," Eagle, with his Indian-operated, maybe even owned, gas station, is remembered for his "bright red and yellow sign on the horizon," his statement to his community and to those beyond--"Welcome Howbah Indians." Despite his brutal death, that fact does not become the center of his story. Rather it is Eagle's voice that marks his continued existence in men's memory, those words on that sign taking up "practically the whole horizon," overriding in that moment the white man's control (Men on the Moon 23, 20).
        "Shall"--that single, simple and potent syllable--rises as the operative and transformative verb in this world of margin-centered existence. It acts in good company. It is song, words lifted by the sound of the human voice, a voice that is not alone but one with many. The margins are not empty. They are moving with life. You can hear it in "It Will Come; It Will Come":

        With compassion.
         With courage.
        With unity.
        With understanding.
        With love.
        We shall endure.
        We shall go on.
        We shall have victory.
        We shall know living.
        We shall know living. (Woven Stone 334)

        Shall: the word speaks continuance. It sustains meaning when individual lives are fragmented. It becomes their margin of existence, and through its slow, steady power, it supports the fundamental pulse of being. In "A Birthday Kid Poem," we listen as "shall" becomes "be":

        It shall end well.
        It shall continue well
        It shall be. (Woven Stone 213)

        That statement of future existence in turn speaks for the most powerful response to the present. The poem ends with a phrase that both describes and commands: "Be enduring. / BE ENDURING" (Woven Stone 213).
        Simon's words are maps for endurance, maps for continuance. They take us into the margin, that ever-potent space between, that space beyond. Here is a place where time opens. In that opening is possibility: connections appear where there was once emptiness; silence ceases and conversation begins. Those margins are physical--"Bitter cold margins of wind flowing / from hill to hill." They are often beautiful: "Snow rivers, sinuous / veins of vital organs" (After and Before the Lightning 7). They hold memory that would otherwise be lost. They are tenuous but tough, made tough by story. As Simon has told us again and again, "Story helps." In these margins, speakers pool voices. That is our sinuous river. And so I will end my words of thanks with words from Simon's poem "Vital Margins."

        The courage it takes is sometimes marginal.
        yet our lives are durable, as tough

        as sinewy wind, up then down, love and hope
        more vital than anything else.
        Story helps. We live the margins we've seen. (After and Before the Lightning 7-8)


        1. The words I write here began in conversation. On an April day, after class, Simon and I were talking about where Native literature is now, who teaches it, why, who reads, what keeps courses in contemporary Native American literature from becoming just another example of that "temporary tourism of the soul," to use Wendy Rose's phrase. That day we talked about margins, the in-between spaces, about Gloria Anzaldúa's words on borderlands and the promise held by El Mundo Zurdo. That conversation is only part of a larger one, continuing to this day.


Ortiz, Simon J. After and Before the Lightning. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1994.

------. Men the Moon. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1999.

------. Woven Stone. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992.


"The story goes its own way"

Ortiz, Nationalism, and the Oral Poetics of Power

DAVID L. MOORE         

In the four "Lightning" poems that frame Simon Ortiz's 1994 collection After and Before the Lightning, he charts the internal agonies of the winter of history. By the finale, an emergence with all the labor pains of spring, there is not only survival, but an affirmation of power. And power, for Ortiz, pulses in the land.

        We do finally know why we don't turn
        from danger or beauty or sadness or joy.
        How completely we feel the tremoring
        and shuddering pulse of the land now
        as we welcome the rain-heart-lightning
        into our trembling yearning selves. (133-134)

        Those feelings, that yearning, the give and take of that power of the land, remain a constant affirmation throughout his work. In an earlier 1980 collection, Fight Back, he writes,

        This land yearns
        for us.
        The people yearn
        for the land.
        Loss and separation
        are hard to bear. (62)

        His work is dedicated not only to bearing that loss and separation, but somehow to reversing it, reuniting the people, and as he says, "not {35} just Indian people," with the land (Fight Back 73). He maps that process in the historical and political spheres and increasingly in the inner territories of the mind and heart as well. Ortiz is generous in showing his readers how to overcome fear of that "danger or beauty or sadness or joy," and even how we "finally know why we don't turn" from that danger. He writes,

Choosing words is a waste of time. Let the words choose you, let them choose their own place, time, identity, meaning. [. . .] They have their own power, their own magic, wonder, brilliance. Where and how they fit, that has nothing to do with us. The only thing we can do is recognize, admit, and accept that. Let words choose us. Let language empower us, give us beauty and awe. We cannot do anything about it. When we think we can, when we choose words, it is a waste of time. (After and Before the Lightning 51)

        His assertion of the "power [. . .] magic, wonder, and brilliance" in words celebrates the multiplicities of language and human discourse as the creator of our expressions of experience and ourselves. This view is in direct contrast with romantic literary nostalgia over the so-called "death of the author." The life or death of the author is not the core issue as long as the stories continue. Instead of some "prison of language," he sees a celebratory source of life in language, with the author dancing along.
        If what makes a poet is openness to that power in language, one of the particularly magnetic qualities in his writing is the fearless way that Ortiz maintains such openness in the midst of a devastating history. This warrior courage is based on love of land and community and on faith in life itself. Faith is always elusive and can be misread as optimism. In a remarkable, reciprocal logic of encouragement, we can read this faith in simply "life and its continuance" through this passage from Fight Back:

We must have passionate concern for what is at stake. We must understand the experience of the oppressed, especially the ra-{36}cial and ethnic minorities, of this nation, by this nation and the economic interests, because only when we truly understand and accept the responsibilities of that understanding will we be able to make the necessary decisions for change. Only then will we truly understand what it is to love the land and people and to have compassion. Only when we are not afraid to fight against the destroyers, thieves, liars, exploiters who profit handsomely off the land and people will we know what love and compassion are. Only when the people of this nation, not just Indian people, fight for what is just and good for all life, will we know life and its continuance. And when we fight, and fight back those who are bent on destruction of land and people, we will win. We will win. (73)

        Those fighting words are filled with the courage of passionate certitude. In the heart of the storm of colonialism, which he names--"This America / has been a burden / of steel and mad / death . . ."--his aesthetic of openness merges with the ethics of power in native nationalism and authenticity (From Sand Creek 9). "[T]he indigenous peoples of the Americas have taken the languages of the colonialists and used them for their own purposes" ("Towards a National Indian Literature" 10). This ability to transform oppressive discourses into "their own purposes" derives from a returning and returning affirmation of dynamic cultural authenticity. "It is by the affirmation of knowledge of source and place and spiritual return that resistance is realized" ("Towards a National Indian Literature" 11). In Ortiz's definition, this is a dynamic, not static, authenticity which moves through that very act of resistance by which the people use colonial languages "for their own purposes." Inside that historical burden of America, he thus can go on to write,

        but, look now,
        there are flowers
        and new grass
        and a spring wind
        from Sand Creek. (From Sand Creek 9)

        But how does this work? On the one hand, Ortiz writes, "Let the words choose you"; and on the other, he affirms that those words must be used by native artists "for their own purposes." How can the words "choose" you when you "use" them for particular purposes? His negotiations of this complex dynamic run parallel to ancient Western questions of free will and predestination, to ancient Eastern mystical tensions between visualization and acceptance, to postmodern tensions between individual agency and social construction, to critical linguistic tensions between personal expression and social language. Ortiz has addressed many of these binary questions in his work. His essays such as, "Song/Poetry and Language--Expression and Perception" and "Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism," written more than twenty years ago, contribute to these ancient discussions in many ways that are beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say that he provides not only the conceptual spark but also the practical example of how to make the leap that transcends or deconstructs these binaries basically of spirit and matter. Ortiz shows us how the way out of or through a paradox--out of a binary lock such as openness to language versus reinvention of language--is the courage of dynamic focused energy, a leap of faith across or around the abyss of that divide. For now, we can watch that leap of faith as we discuss how these two tendencies in his work, to "let the words choose you" and to take "the language[s] of the colonialists and [use] them for their own purposes" as a native nationalist.
        Are these two tendencies, with their various aesthetic and ethical dimensions, a contradiction or a mystification? Is he being co added to the other tough questions about how Indian voices reinvent their stories in the enemy's language. Through Ortiz's oral aesthetic of resistive and regenerative cultural authenticity, we find a single root in that certainty which knows that "The story goes its own way" (After and Before the Lightning 20). In his description of the power of the oral tradition, there is little room for powerlessness. For instance, this affirmation of an oral aesthetics of power is from his introduction to his edited volume, Earth Power Coming:

There have always been the songs, the prayers, the stories. There have always been the voices. There have always been the people. There have always been those words which evoked meaning and the meaning's magical wonder. There has always been the spirit which inspired the desire for life to go on. And it has been through the words of the songs, the prayers, the stories that the people have found a way to continue, for life to go on.
        It is the very experience of life that engenders life. It is the act of perception that insures knowledge. For Indian people, it has been the evolvement of a system of life which insists on one's full awareness of his relationship to all life. Through words derived from one's thoughts, beliefs, acts, experiences, it is possible to share this awareness with all mankind. (vii)

        Because of this root of certitude in his aesthetic, and its ethics, he can give himself, his writing, and even history over to an affirmation. For example, in a remarkable moment in After and Before the Lightning, Ortiz inserts an internal, contemplative voice into a communal story:

"In those days, people would go on top of Horace Mesa to gather piñon nuts. Once in October, they went for two days. On the second day it started to snow. It snowed all afternoon and into the night. [. . .]" No, it's not that way. The story goes its own way. In my mind the words go their way, following the basic story plus the imagination and memory, plus the way I have experienced things. It is how the story goes, my mother's and father's words, their experiences in my mind, and my mind's own knowledge.
        Imagination is a harking back to the source but it is also more than source.
        [ . . . ]
        Snow that October, the language of experience, sensation, history, imagination are all in the story and how it carries forth. Story has its own life, its very own, and we are the voice carried with it. (After and Before the Lightning 20)
         By his explanation such letting go so that the story may go "its own way" is only a loss of illusion. Control gives way to that reciprocal certitude. We become empowered as we let ourselves be "the voice carried with" the story, "as we welcome the rain-heart-lightning / into our trembling yearning selves." This empowerment becomes a writer's balanced embrace of the power of craft and the power of language, and that embrace functions on fundamental faith in those powers.
        Throughout his work Ortiz marks many expressions of this reciprocal certitude in references to "Existence" or "continuance" or to "the creative forces of life" (Fight Back 1). The affirmation often remains submerged as the a priori, the foundational dynamic of his language and perception. He rarely lands directly on faith in these forces as its own focus, perhaps because of a difference between optimism and faith: where optimism is vague and passive and faith is specific and active, like the focused energy of reciprocal certitude which turns in Ortiz's words. His prose can be explicit about that cycle, "my own writing comes from a similar dynamic of reciprocity shared by the land, water, and human culture" (Speaking for the Generations xv). Often this dynamic affirmation of faith focuses the process that drives his politics. For instance, he writes, "There is a revolution going on; it is very spiritual and its manifestation is economic, political, and social. Look to the horizon and listen" (From Sand Creek 54). By mapping those manifestations of spirit, his works direct the active reader to the full spectrum of grim history both as it is written and as he would rewrite it to revise a future.
        As Robin Riley Fast suggests, "Having given his testimony, Ortiz can finally rely only on hope, but the terms in which he imagines hope, in the context of this history, must be limited unless his witness compels his listeners to faith and action" (59). In that momentum of action, Ortiz gives many phrases to this ineffable "Existence." Again in dynamic relation, he invokes "the creative ability of Indian people to gather in many forms of the socio-political-colonizing force which beset them and to make those forms meaningful in their own terms" ("Towards a National Indian Literature" 8). That "creative ability of Indian people" is linked in turn to the center of "Existence," a term {40} which he frequently capitalizes. In his introduction to Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing, Ortiz writes,
Acoma Pueblo people believe they came into Existence as a human culture and community at Shipapu, which they know is a sacred mythic place of origin. Shipapu and a belief in Shipapu, therefore and thereafter, is the mythic source of their Existence. Coming into Existence from a source like Shipapu is indisputably an assertion of their direct relationship with the creative spirit-force-dynamic of the earth. (xiii-xiv)

        His connections to this "spirit-force-dynamic of the earth" take many forms of expression, which we might approach through Ortiz's own general categories of manifestation--economic, political, and social--and he maps those categories onto a ground which we might call ecological. Thus there emerge in his writing four foci of his "spirit-energy-dynamic of the earth": first the ecological "for the sake of the land"; second the social "for the sake of the people"; third the political, how "Warriors will keep alive in the blood;" and fourth the economic, how he addresses "this heart which is our America" (From Sand Creek 33). Of course any one of these bears the weight of any of the other categories, as the economic is ecological, the political is social, and so forth. What is key here is his originary faith in the "spirit-energy-dynamic" which can envision active human choice in each of these realms.
        For the sake of time, I would like to discuss briefly only the last two of these areas in conclusion, and leave "for the sake of the land" and "for the sake of the people" to our other speakers who, I am sure, will treat them abundantly. I am intrigued by the warrior anger which Ortiz wields with such skill, a warrior ethos not "frightened by emotion, / the sheer joy of being men, / of being children" (From Sand Creek 59). There is a fascinating link from that warrior ethic in his work to the particular ways that his redefinitions of "America" offer the enemies of that warrior a vision of compassion. The warrior who is open to anger is also open to compassion. Thus, speaking of the settlers, he writes,
        They should have eaten
        whole buffalo.
        They should have,
        like the People wanted for them. (From Sand Creek 51)

If they had taken more than just the tongues and hides, if the hunters had had compassion for the buffalo, the invaders might even have discovered how "Warriors could have passed / into their young blood" (From Sand Creek 35). By openness to feelings, they would be open to the warrior spirit that survives. Ortiz is generous in battle.
        I think this generosity rises up because his work is courageous enough to imagine balance in a crazy world, in a crazy psyche. In a passage on shell-shocked warriors in the Ft. Lyons veterans hospital, he writes, "There is an honest and healthy anger which will raze these walls, and it is the rising of our blood and breath which will free our muscles, minds, spirits" (From Sand Creek 84). Having also written, "I am so mad / with love for these derelicts," he personalizes that proclamation about anger in the lines that conclude the accompanying poem:

        I could only cry,
        like his anger,
        and dismayed. (From Sand Creek 85)

        When that anger cannot find an outlet, it injures the self. "Repression," he writes, "works like a shadow, clouding memory and sometimes even to blind, and when it is on a national scale, it is just not good" (From Sand Creek 14). But as we saw in Fight Back, the courage to resist is linked to the passion for life, and that passion is linked to compassion even for disappointed settlers. "Even the farmer has become a loser," he writes (From Sand Creek 30). That compassion is aimed even toward deluded soldiers at Sand Creek,
        [. . .] and breathing
        self-righteously they deemed
        themselves blessed and pure
        so that not even breath
        became life--
        life strangled
        in their throats. (From Sand Creek 75)

        Yet that warrior spirit survives even the assault of self-righteous massacres, enough to convey a tone of tenderness that is the only way to catch the attention of despair:

        Don't fret now.
        Songs are useless
        to exculpate sorrow.
        That's not their intent anyway.
        for significance.
        Cull seeds from grass.
        Develop another strain of corn.
        Whisper for rain.
        Don't fret.
        Warriors will keep alive in the blood. (From Sand Creek 33)

        A faith in the warrior spirit is a faith in life, in corn, as the prose statement accompanying this poem declares: "In this hemisphere, corn is ancient and young; it is the seed, food, and symbol of a constantly developing and revolutionary people" (From Sand Creek 32). The energy of revolution is the biological cycle of sunlight in corn as food for human bodies.
        In the next category where his pragmatic faith in "the spirit-force-dynamic of the earth" addresses "this heart which is our America," his alternate vision of history evokes a cross-cultural nation where whites unlearn Puritanism and relearn from Indians that death is not {43} sin, that suffering is not evil, that they did not have to mask their fear and guilt in a myth of Manifest Destiny, that "We do finally know why we don't turn / from danger or beauty or sadness or joy." In From Sand Creek he writes, "Pain and death did not have to be propagated as darkness and wrong and coldness; they could have listened and listened and learned to sing in Arapaho" (34). Such a fantasy does not ring hollow, because Ortiz hooks that alternate history onto internal, psychological losses that are real. He even counsels the white warriors:

        They should have seen
        the thieves stealing
        their most precious treasure:
        their compassion, their anger. (From Sand Creek 59)

        Again, his faith in that spirit-force-dynamic categorizes compassion and anger together as a warrior energy. Ortiz not only suggests how a white military was out of touch with its compassion because it was out of touch with the roots of its anger, he speaks to the white culture in a voice like a matter-of-fact mother earth, suggesting what could have been history:

        There was no paradise,
        but it would have gently and willingly
        and longingly given them food and air
        and substance for every comfort.
        If they had only acknowledged
        Even their smallest conceit. (From Sand Creek 79)

        Presumably there is still a future in that yearning and longing of the land for the people. Ortiz even articulates for them their arrogance and their acquisitive assumptions: "There is probably no way to verify if people become self-righteous and arrogant because they are dissatisfied or failures, but they certainly do" (From Sand Creek 76). Through his own clarity about that spirit-energy-dynamic, Ortiz is able to diagnose the problem:
        And onward,
        they marched,
        sweeping aside the potential
        of dreams which could have been
        generous and magnificent
        and genius for them.

        It is
        no wonder
        they deny regret
        for the slaughter
        of their future.
        Denying eternity, it is no wonder
        they became so selflessly
        righteous. (From Sand Creek 77)

        In a collection which takes the Sand Creek Massacre as its central metaphor, it is a remarkable twist for Ortiz to point to the "slaughter / of their future," referring to the destruction of America's own compassionate heart in the violent extremes of that self-righteous mentality. And in that same context, we can see further his point that "Denying eternity" is the consequence of denying humanity in America's "others" by that tragic militarism which slaughtered and mutilated Black Kettle's peaceful camp.
        From Sand Creek begins not only with America as "a burden / of steel and mad / death," but astonishingly frames the intimate, angry, celebratory poems with this affirmation at the end:

        That dream
        shall have a name
        after all,
        and it will not be vengeful
        but wealthy with love
        and compassion
        and knowledge.
        And it will rise
        in this heart
        which is our America. (95)

        In the first poem of From Sand Creek, which begins "Grief / memorizes this grass" of Ft. Lyons, Colorado, the staging ground for the 1864 massacre, Ortiz provokes his readers to the act of believing in that primary energy which survives such grief. In this instance, he calls that spirit-force-dynamic "raw courage":

        believe it,
        red-eyed and urgent,
        stalking Denver.
        Like stone,
        like steel,
        the hone and sheer gone,
        just the brute
        and perceptive angle left.

        Like courage,
        believe it,

        left still;
        the words from then
        talk like that.
        Believe it. (11)

        He can deliver this imperative to believe in the timelessness of words spoken with raw courage because that is what he does. Here again Ortiz gives us not only the urgency but the example of how to see and what to do with the history of our America, which he loves as "something precious in the memory in blood and cells which insists on story, poetry, song, life, life" (From Sand Creek 92). By faith in that life, he writes, "Women and men may be broken and scattered, but {46} they remember and think about the reasons why. They answer their own questions and always the truth and love will make them decide" (From Sand Creek 56). His readers and his nation, Acoma and America, owe him real thanks on these questions.


Fast, Robin Riley. "`It is ours to know': Simon J. Ortiz's From Sand Creek." Studies in American Indian Literatures 12.3 (Fall 2000): 52-63.

Ortiz, Simon J. After and Before the Lightning. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1994.

------. Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land. Albuquerque: Institute for Native American Development--Native American Studies, U of New Mexico, 1980.

------. From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America. New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1981.

------. Introduction. Earth Power Coming: Short Fiction in Native American Literature. Ed. Simon J. Ortiz. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College Press, 1983. vii-ix.

------. "Introduction: Wah nuhtyuh-yuu dyu neetah tyahstih (Now It Is My Turn To Stand)." Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing. Ed. Simon J. Ortiz. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1997. xi-xix.

------. "Song/Poetry and Language--Expression and Perception." Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics. Ed. Jerome Rothenberg and Diane Rothenberg. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 399-407.

------. "Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism." MELUS 8.2 (Summer 1981): 7-12.


Poetry Can Be All This

All of You, All of Me, All of Us

JOY HARJO         

The smoke of student riots still lingered in the air the fall I arrived at the University of New Mexico with my three-year-old son to begin my studies in pre-med and dance in the early seventies. The Kiva Club, (the Indian student club), was my community, my center of gravity. We were dedicated to defining, securing, defending and protecting Native rights. We didn't just talk; we acted. After classes and meetings we'd often gather later to continue discussions, or to party. We were a pivotal generation and urgently understood the need for cultural regeneration, political and social renovation; we did everything passionately, hard.

One night that first fall at UNM, I met Simon Ortiz. It was at a gathering of native students and activists. Simon started the conversation. He was working for the National Indian Youth Council with Gerald Wilkinson up on Central Avenue, and had been sleeping on the floor of the offices. I don't know what I said or if I said much of anything at all beyond my tribal affiliation and school major. I was shy, self-contained. He was a poet, he said. What do you say to a poet? Sure I knew about Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the Beats, but there was no such thing in our circle, though we did respect the power of words. I'd admired eloquent native speeching at press conferences and in circles of meaning and consequence, from my own quiet distance. And many students at Indian school wrote poetry. Mostly, I'd always imagined poets as pale men (and the rare {48} spinster) declaiming in long aristocratic coats, haling from wet, cold lands. I had never met an Indian person before who introduced himself as "a poet."
        Simon Ortiz invited me to a reading he was going to do the next morning over live radio. I don't think I went the next morning to the radio show, but eventually we became a couple. He obsessively wrote poems and journals, labored hours at his typewriter at the kitchen table or on some other improvised desk. He had meetings, associations, even at times, an entourage of followers. I painted. He was the one with words. I was wordlessness. I had always preferred the silence and space of painting and drawing, after taking care of a child, then children. As I watched Simon work I had to admit that I was amazed at the creation of a poem, how a kernel of meaning and sound condensed to one page could stagger the world with meaning. There was Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Gabrielle Minstral, and I held their poems in my hands. And not just their words, but in these words lived souls, lands, and peoples. What blew me open next was the realization that poetry lived within our native lands, our communities. And that poetry could be about the everyday of washing dishes, sunrise, crows carrying on, and that crickets in the corner of the room making a huge racket as well could be honoring songs for those we loved, for those who were working with us for justice. Poetry became a refuge in those times of gathering together, standing up, and reconfiguring. Poetry was Simon's gift to me, and it was here that my poetry began.

        3 AM1

        in the Albuquerque airport
        trying to find a flight
        to Old Oraibi, Third Mesa
        is the only desk open
        bright lights outline New York
        and the attendant doesn't know
        that Third Mesa
        is a part of the center
        of the world
        and who are we
        just two indians
        at three in the morning
        trying to find a way back

        and then I remembered
        that time Simon
        took a Yellow Cab
        out to Acoma from Albuquerque
        a twenty five dollar ride
        to the center of himself

        3 AM is not too late
        to find the way back

         Are You Still There?

        there are sixty-five miles
        of telephone wire
        between acoma
        and albuquerque
        i dial the number
        and listen for the sound
        of his low voice
        on the other side
        is a gentle motion of a western wind
        cradling tiny purple flowers
        that grow near the road
        towards laguna
        i smell them
        as i near the rio puerco bridge
        my voice stumbles
        returning over sandstone
        as it passes the canoncito exit
        i have missed you he says
        the rhythm circles the curve
        of mesita cliffs
        to meet me
        but my voice is caught
        shredded on a barbed wire fence
        at the side of the road
        and flutters soundless
        in the wind


        1. The following poems appear in Joy Harjo, How We Became Human (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), and were originally published in What Moon Drove Me To This? (Berkeley: I.Reed Books, 1979).


The Stories He Lives By


Summer 1978. I was a young journalist, in love with words, thriving on deadlines and adrenaline rushes, disbelieving that I actually got paid to meet and interview Indian leaders and newsmakers, movers and shakers, like poet Simon Ortiz. Simon and I sat on the grass, under the thick shade of cottonwood trees that dominated the then-existing campus of the Albuquerque Indian School. The All Indian Pueblo Council was in the process of taking over the school from BIA control. The aging buildings were being condemned one by one, and AIPC was looking into how they could provide a better education for Pueblo youth. It was a fitting place for an interview with this poet, what with the political implications in a boarding school setting, and Simon's confrontation of issues facing America and Native America in his writing.
        I was only vaguely aware of his writing, though by this point he already had four books to his name. His book Howbah Indians had just been published, his reputation growing. It was an amazing discovery for me that Indians could be authors. There had been none as I grew up, no one I recognized in all the books I had read. I listened hard as Simon spoke, not only because that comes with journalistic training, but because his words resonated within me: "As Indian persons, each of us has different roles and tasks, and I decided I would write to carry out the responsibility of teaching Indian and non-Indian people" (Zuni).
        Even if it had only started as an adolescent dream, I still harbored the thought in the back of my mind that someday I could write a book. And here before me was an Indian author, a Pueblo no less, who wrote of people and places with which I was familiar, who showed in {52} his poems and stories that our lives were as important and worthy as any. Like coyote, he had been all over the country, working all kinds of jobs, meeting all kinds of people, and then writing about those experiences. His hands gestured as he spoke passionately about writing, about themes in his work, about responsibilities, about the value of language.
        The '60s were a defining moment for Simon:

[He told me,] I think a lot of us went through quite a change. We came to a point in time where we had to make a decision either to keep on being treated as a stereotype image of the quiet Indian or to speak out and to demand respect. Not just quietly ask, but to act, to confront the non-Indian power structure. I think this happened within the communities, Indian and non-Indian, and within ourselves. We gained a more firm idea of ourselves, what our human capabilities were, and could become.
        Most of my writing is part of a story of Indian people, life, land, America. Most Indian people grow up with the thought of being useful for the sake of the land, the people. This kind of philosophy is really what I want to make my writing be. (Zuni)

It amazed me that an author was down to earth, a "regular" guy not caught up in arrogance, but was interested in community and in speaking to community. Looking back, I see so clearly that he, who had also been without Indian models, was paving the way for all the native writers who followed, including me.
        Eight years later I was in the graduate program at UNM in the creative writing program, studying Native American literature, not knowing then the Native American Renaissance was beginning to roll, with Simon as one of the major writers at its forefront. Since then I have become well familiar with Simon's work and have heard him read and speak many times and have had many conversations with him. Returning to this interview twenty-six years later, I am struck with how Simon's message has remained constant over the years as only a message that comes with conviction can. What he said then is what he always has said and is what literary scholars have written about as a common theme of resistance in his work and in native lit-{53}erature in general: "Indian people are really energetic and enthused about how we can work, not only with organizations just on specific levels, but throughout all things. There's a lot of inspiration by looking at the long history of resistance. If our ancestors hadn't fought, we wouldn't be here" (Zuni).
        He told me in 1978 that in his writing, he strives for an in-depth insight into people, not just their personalities, but also the events which surround people and in which they grow, sometimes even destructively: "People's lives aren't always successful. I have always tried to find, even in defeat, inspiration for others" (Zuni). I think it is this quality in his writing of providing hope and inspiration that resounds with readers.
        He is an important writer, well regarded, revered even, by some. He has contributed much to native literature with his essays, poetry, and short stories, always with that seeming simplicity that overlays complexity. His native language, the stories of his people, his traditional upbringing permeate his thought, his writing, his voice, his presence. He speaks forth the Indian experience in a way people, white and Indian, urban and reservation, recognize and embrace. Always he opens with a greeting in the Acoma language. His voice is resonant. He speaks slowly. His words are deceptively simple but hit with a twang to the heart like an arrow to the bull's eye. He writes out of a tender compassion for the harsh political and social realities of native life. He writes and speaks from his heart.
        In addition to his writing, his significant contribution to native literatures is his constant support of emerging writers and support of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico and the Institute of American Indian Arts. I admire this community consciousness. No matter where he is, he always comes home to reconnect, to contribute, to participate. His writing, his life, truly is for the land, the community, the next generation.


Zuni, Evelina. "Writer Ortiz Tells Indian Joys, Struggles, Victories and Sorrows." Pueblo News Aug. 1978.


"It was that Indian"

Simon Ortiz, Activist Poet

LAURA TOHE         

"It was that Indian [. . .]"(3). The first time I heard Simon Ortiz read this line from his poem with the same title was in the 1970s at the University of New Mexico. He was reading from his recent work, Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land. These poems spoke powerfully of the uranium mining that was taking place on Laguna land in New Mexico. Simon's poetry was a reflection of not only his experience as a former mine worker, but of the Southwestern native people's experience in the mining industry.
        "It was that Indian. [. . .]" A little revolution exploded in my mind. It's been twenty-four years since he wrote this line, but it continues to stick with me. Few native writers were getting their work published in those days. At this poetry reading, Simon named places I knew and people who worked for the mines near Laguna and Grants, New Mexico. With each poem he read, I became more immersed in his words. As we used to say in the 70s, "he blew me away" with his words.
        I grew up on the Diné reservation in New Mexico and Arizona in a remote place and mostly disconnected from the outside world. At the elementary Day School I learned to read from the Dick and Jane reading series. When we got to see television once a week, it reflected a white America: Our Miss Brooks, The Real McCoys, The Three Stooges, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Here was one of the first native writers speaking of border towns, capitalism, exploitation, environmental pollution, and racism. Though they were his words, he spoke powerfully for those of us who were silent. Simon's reading made us feel the power of language, the power of speaking for The People and for the land.
        Further on he read, "and never mind also / that the city had a jail full of Indians" (Fight Back 3). Simon voiced a silent truth that we Indians had been living under for nearly five hundred years of colonialism. No one was writing of border towns, those little havens of racism and exploitation hubs that simmered near the reservations in those days, except for Simon. My childhood memories are still clouded by the times when my family parked in the JCPenney's parking lot and saw Indian men and women shout greetings to their family below from behind the shadowy windows of the upper floor of the Gallup city jail. His words continue to explode in my mind as they do today when I'm at his readings or reading his work. My earliest writing, stirred with Simon's activism, influenced my work as I tentatively put words on paper. His work as an activist poet has helped raise our social and political consciousness and, I believe, influenced the present generation of native poets and writers. Simon, as informal mentor, has generously given his time and editorial skills to beginning native writers. I am especially grateful for his editorial help on my manuscript, No Parole Today. With Simon's early encouragement and support I published some of my earliest work as a fledgling poet. It was during this time I sorely needed a mentor to give me the kind of encouragement that he provided.
        "We have been told many things, / but we know this to be true: / the land and the people," Simon wrote from the same work (Fight Back 36). In each new book Simon has taken us on his journeys, sometimes as trickster Coyote, sometimes as father, as husband, as lover, as son, as urban derelict, as teacher in his comments on the Indian in America, and on America. He once said, "My education comes from experiencing all of America." While some of his revelations are hard to take, he avoids descending into cynicism and bitterness. Instead he reaches for hope, for the continued struggle to survive. His activist poetry converges with the spiritual values of his Aacqu/Acoma upbringing and his compassion. Simon, like Ella Deloria, Vine Deloria, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Leslie Marmon Silko, speaks from The People's consciousness for the sake of the land and The People. These word warriors' past and present have helped defend the sovereign status of native nations and the struggles of na-{56}tive peoples on their terms. Simon is also one of the few native writers who use the Acoma language in his work.
        Simon defined colonialism in his work when no one else spoke of it. Before there was such a thing as the Native American literary renaissance, Simon affirmed the spirit and values of The People when many of us were struggling with the residual effects of boarding schools. Simon's body of work consistently responds with the deeply rooted values and beliefs of indigenous peoples toward the earth, toward each other, and for continuance as native peoples. Perhaps for this reason his work has been often glossed over by critics.
        While it would be easy to simply slot Simon into Native American poet or Acoma poet, his work speaks of issues that confront our national consciousness, issues such as the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and Iraq. Closer to home, he has written of American genocide in From Sand Creek and U.S. policies that impact native lands and native peoples that bear parallels to the U.S. presence in the Middle East. At his readings he exhorts us to challenge national issues that face us as American citizens and, most particularly, as tribal nations.
        Simon Ortiz's body of work spans across four decades. He gives us a rich and enduring legacy of poetry, stories, including children's stories, essays, and film work. He is a nationally and internationally recognized poet. Locally he has been acclaimed many times over and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement by the Word Craft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. His recognition as one of America's foremost poets and writers is long overdue. He once said that to demystify language is to use language as clearly and succinctly as possible. For that I say, ahé'hee', thank you for bringing forth our history and our stories for survival, for continuance.


Ortiz, Simon J. Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land. Albuquerque: Institute for Native American Development--Native American Studies, U of New Mexico, 1980.

------. From Sand Creek. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2000. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1981.


The Challenge of Speaking First


In 2000 I invited Simon Ortiz and Teresa Leal, co-chair of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, to the North American Conference on Environment and Community in Reno, Nevada. I had asked Simon to participate, with Teresa, on a roundtable that would focus on how artists, activists, scholars, and teachers can work together to achieve the goals of the environmental justice movement, which advocates for the right of all people to benefit equally from a safe and clean environment. Waiting for a delayed flight, Simon, Teresa, and I found ourselves in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, drinking coffee and eating bagels. Simon and Teresa had never met before and they were clearly enjoying the opportunity to talk about who they knew in common, what places they had both visited, and what civil rights and environmental actions they had each participated in.
        I remember feeling privileged to be sitting with these two. Each had contributed so much, to use Simon's words, "for the sake of the land and all people." Teresa (Opata/Mayo) had been on the front lines, fighting against the contamination of workers and their environments since her days working in the fields with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. Simon had been writing about his own people, the Acoma, and other Native American peoples since the 1960s, drawing connections between such events as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and modern day corporate colonization of American Indian labor and resources and the consequent social breakdown in native communities and toxic degradation of the surrounding environment. "When I write," {58} he would say at the roundtable discussion that took place the next day, "I write as an Indian, or native person, concerned with his environmental circumstances and what we have to do to fight for a good kind of life" (Adamson 16).
        "Fighting for a good kind of life" is one of the most powerful themes running through Simon's writings and certainly one of the most urgent goals of the environmental justice movement. In the preamble to the seventeen "Principles of Environmental Justice" created at the 1991 First National People of Color Summit in Washington, D.C., delegates declared their right to "secure our political, economic, and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples" (qtd. in Di Chiro 307). In interviews and readings throughout the 1990s, Simon was talking about the right of indigenous peoples to fight for their own liberation in terms very similar to those in the preamble. In Winged Words, he told interviewer Laura Coltelli,

[this] process of colonization, that is, usurping the indigenous power of the people, taking their land and resources and language and heritage away--that has to be struggled against. [. . .] You have to fight it, to keep what you have, what you are, because they are trying to steal your soul, your spirit, as well as your land. (111)

        The fight against colonization, he said when I first met him during the 1992 "Poetics and Politics: Reading by Native American Writers Series" in Tucson, Arizona, has to begin with "responsibility" and "advocacy." "Native American writers," he explained, "have to be responsible to their source, it's an advocacy position in a way, to be able to continue as who we are, to sustain ourselves and to be nourished by our cultural source, then you have to be an advocate, but an advocate that is responsible" ("Poetics and Politics").
        Simon's observation that there is a fine line to walk in advocacy and that advocacy must begin with a "responsibility to the source," resonates strongly with many of the discussions I have had with {59} Teresa Leal over the past several years. Just the other day, we were speaking of Simon, reminiscing about our pleasant conversation with him at Sky Harbor, and thinking about the challenges of being a person willing to speak first. She told me,

It is hard, Joni, to be the first one to speak. Especially if you are Indian. Indians must always be aware of how much of their culture has been lost and how careful they must be not to speak a word that would contribute to more loss. There are often consequences for speaking, for being the first. It is hard to be the first to speak on any issue that runs contrary to the opinions of the dominant culture, but it is hard, too, to be the first to speak in American Indian communities. Simon is a strong voice, a strong writer who has spoken first in his poetry and prose on many issues, including the consequences of colonization and the reasons why we must see people at the center of our concern for the environment.

        Teresa's words were a tribute to Simon, who has remained true to his Acoma source, while at the same time daring to speak first on important issues and standing as a strong advocate for greater social and environmental responsibility. In poems such as "That's the Place the Indians Talk About," Ortiz makes clear the explicit connection between speaking and advocating for justice. In the poem, an old Paiute man listens to a sacred hot springs through a fence which has been put up by the naval personnel who have built a base around the springs and who now use this base to test weapons of destruction. The Paiute man says, "We don't like to talk to the fence and the Navy / but for a while we will and pretty soon / we will talk to the hot springs power again" (Fight Back 34). The old man listens to the "stones down there moving around each other" and hears them "talking"; this "moving power" is "the moving power of the voice, / the moving power of the earth, / the moving power of the People" (Fight Back 33, 35). By speaking through the fence, the Paiute man and the group of people who travel with him illustrate the "moving power of the voice" or the power of people who dare to speak. These people are {60} demanding an end to five hundred years of injustices and their right to social, cultural, spiritual, political, and ecological self-determination.
        In his writing and speaking, Ortiz continually celebrates the power of the voice, the power of speaking, to "change things in a good way." For facing the challenge of speaking first on so many interrelated social and environmental issues, I offer my most deeply felt tribute to an artist who is demonstrating the powerful role that poets and writers are playing in the environmental justice movement.


Adamson, Joni, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein, eds. The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002.

Coltelli, Laura. Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990.

Di Chiro, Giovanna. "Nature as Community: The Convergence of Environmental and Social Justice." UnCommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. Ed. William Cronon. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. 298-320.

Leal, Teresa. Personal conversation. Tucson, AZ. May 16, 2004.

Ortiz, Simon. Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land. Albuquerque: Institute of Native American Development--Native American Studies, University of New Mexico, 1980. 33-35.

------. Seminar for "Poetics and Politics: A Series of Readings by Native American Writers." U of Arizona, Tucson, February 3, 1992. Unpublished manuscript.


"Story Speaks for Us"

Centering the Voice of Simon Ortiz

P. JANE HAFEN         

Too many years ago to mention, I gave my first professional conference paper at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. The topic of the paper was Simon Ortiz's short story "Kaiser and the War." I was drawn to the story because Ortiz is a Pueblo Indian, like myself, and the story is about a place and people I know. However, I took a very structural approach, as I had been academically trained to do. Mercifully, the text of the paper has disappeared along with the obsolete 5 1/4-inch floppy disk where it was stored. Had I known more about Ortiz and his writings at the time, had I followed his example of Pueblo resistance and trusted my own tribal voice to be also an academic voice, the paper would have been much different.
        To summarize briefly, the argument was that Kaiser is marked as a victim because his appearance and behavior disrupt the community. Utilizing the methodology of René Girard from Violence and the Sacred, I argued that Kaiser represents a sacred victim whose sacrifice restores order to the community. One reason he threatens the community is because he functions as a trickster. As a "safety valve" his behaviors represent disorder to the authorities who try to make him submit. Rather than tolerate him as a traditional community would, the police and draft board throw Kaiser in jail. His punishment creates a sense of communitas.
        The flaw of this analysis (as I remember it) is the general flaw of structuralism; the analysis becomes an end in and of itself. However, at the time I was starting graduate school, that was an approach I was {62} taught, and it worked with the story. It was the kind of analysis that was accepted as a refereed submission and contained sufficient jargon to suggest that I knew what I was positing.
        I realize that this summary sounds like a mea culpa for a youthful presentation. However, I think it raises another interesting dilemma in American Indian studies, the matters of where and how one learns the discipline of the field when many mentors are well intentioned but ill informed and when institutions, conferences, journals, and publishers reward traditional and colonial literary approaches. I was fortunate enough to come under the tutelage and influence of indigenous academics who pioneered a place for native studies. Ortiz's writings and interviews became part of my education even though I did not meet him personally until 1996.
        Despite the inroads of indigenous theorists, the recognition of Simon Ortiz and his writings at the Modern Language Association, the publication of definitive works by Robert Allen Warrior (Osage), Craig Womack (Muskogee Creek), and LeAnne Howe (Choctaw), just to name a few, colonial criticism still rules. Oddly enough, even early critics of Ortiz recognized that his writing and Native American literature requires a critical approach apart from traditional methodologies. In Simon Ortiz (1986) Andrew Wiget suggests that considering Ortiz's writings as part of the "West" as "a concept rooted in the peculiar history and mythos of Judeo-Christian Europe [. . .] is fundamentally alien and antagonistic to the many distinctive culture and mythic perspectives unique to Native America" (5). Additionally, Dean Rader observes the challenges of discussing American Indian literatures: "Perhaps Anglos find Native American literature elusive or inaccessible primarily because it reveals metaphors of expression of revelation or participation regarding memory and history, while the dominant Anglo cultural narrative employs metaphors of occlusion, deception and deferral" (76). Rader goes on to note the challenges of finding critical literature about Native American poetry, but he does encounter an abundance of interviews. He reiterates: "[M]odern critical discourse does not know how to engage Native American poetry the same way it addresses and critiques modern and postmodern Anglo poetry" (77). Rader's essay offers ways of talking {63} about Ortiz and Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso with symbol and allegory. Nevertheless, the academy rules with various articles about Ortiz that use traditional, mainstream critical theories.
        Ortiz himself has noted the limitations of critical approaches to his writings. In an interview with Laura Coltelli he states:

The [critical] works that I have read, have, unfortunately--I would say 90 percent--a limited perspective, a limited view of my poetry. By that I mean that too often their understanding of my poetry is based on their acceptance and judgment of what a Native American should write about. He should write about Native American settings, he should use images that are Native American, and should use the language and values of that; otherwise he is not acceptable. It is very stereotypical as well as racist, unfortunately, which is perhaps the main concern that I have: critics who don't want to really understand Native American people, that the Native America writer comes from his people. If a critic doesn't understand that people and that land, then he's not going to be able to discuss seriously or with any comprehension what the writer is writing about. (115)

        Ortiz not only identifies the restrictions of many critical approaches, but he names them what they are: racist. These critical methods are not racist in the sense that they overtly demean or belittle American Indian writing; their racism lies in their presumption to define standards for native writers and to impose ideals that have nothing to do with native peoples and points of view.
        Perhaps a lesson could be learned from current trends in religious history studies. In a recent speech, "On Secular Bias in the Study of Religion," Brad Gregory posited that to understand history of the Reformation, historians had to allow for the sincere beliefs and points of view of the objects of the history (Forum). He was particularly critical of the so-called objectivity of social anthropologists who attempt to intellectually distance themselves from their subjects. Additionally James D. Tracy in "Believers, Non-Believers, and the Historian's Unspoken Assumptions" states

graduate students of my generation took in as if through our pores the idea that historical writing is scholarly only when it is intended for a public domain governed by the canons of critical reason, a domain in which, by definition, no particular religious and philosophical stance should have any privileges. (403)

        Simply put, they argue that to understand Catholic history, historians must account for the Catholic beliefs and Catholic culture's points of view in order to interpret events. The positionality of these two Catholic historians is grounded in both deconstructionist and Foucauldian theories.
        Therefore, academicians have to take only a short leap to enhance understanding of the otherness of American Indian literatures. Native cultures, nations, languages, and theories must be centered to be understood and interpreted. Learned theories can become extensions of subordination and colonization when hearts of indigenousness are ignored. Simon Ortiz clearly states how and where American Indian literatures are foregrounded in a 1989 interview.

Native American literature is based on ritual and oral tradition. [. . .] In terms of literary theme, land is a material reality as well as a philosophical, metaphysical idea or concept; land is who we are, land is our identity, land is home place, land is sacred. [. . .] The spiritual aspect of literature is [. . .] responsibility and the insistence on that common shared responsibility [. . .] Another distinction would be [. . .] "resistance literature" [. . .] decolonization and liberation literature. (364-65)

        Further in his essay "Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism," Ortiz argues for a singing, dancing, "community fulfilled in its most complete sense of giving and receiving," and, again, "resistance--political, armed, spiritual--which has been carried out by the oral tradition" (7, 10). In this interview and essay, along with other sources, Ortiz is consistent and clear about what he sees as vital in native literatures.
        Simon Ortiz's graceful voice and my own years of experience presented a new way of reading "Kaiser and the War" when I recently taught it. With more confidence, I no longer tried to apply an interesting but ultimately irrelevant theory to the story. The narrative begins in first person, a youthful narrator who was in the fourth grade when Kaiser was released from jail. The anecdotal tone of the first person underscores the idea of orality.1 Readers learn about Kaiser by what and how the narrator tells in the story. The tradition of orality becomes an issue of resistance when the narrator reveals that Kaiser could neither read nor write prior to his incarceration nor could he completely understand the proceedings that were conducted in English. Kaiser is subjected to the power of the colonizers, their judicial system, and their language.
        Additionally, the narrator tells of his grandfather who "would tell us stories about the olden times." The grandfather, "a healer and kiva elder" is steeped in the ritual of storytelling. Kaiser begins to tell the stories himself (26).
        Kaiser seeks refuge on Black Mesa. This detail centers the story in a place of indigenousness and refuge. The law enforcement officials, the sheriff, another police officer, and a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent, could not negotiate "the country around Black Mesa. It's rougher than hell up there" (27). Kaiser, who knows the land and is the land, outlasts the attempts to find him. The tribal members are deputized and make half-hearted efforts to assist the law, but spend much of their time laughing and ridiculing the futile search.
        Surprisingly, Kaiser decides to volunteer for the army. Grandfather Faustin (a recurring character in Ortiz's short stories) tries to dissuade him and directly forbids him. Kaiser resists, though, acknowledging that Faustin does not have the matrilineal authority to order his staying home. Matrineal authority is established through clan descendancy in many Pueblo cultures. Nevertheless, Faustin and the narrator's grandfather ritually bless Kaiser before he leaves. The communal sanctification also emphasizes spiritual aspects of the story.
        The story jumps to Kaiser's incarceration in the state pen. Even though Grandfather Faustin passes away, the tribal members con-{66}tinue to check on Kaiser, and eventually retrieve him. Kaiser seems demoralized and dispirited by his experience. He wears a gray suit everywhere, for every occasion. Despite his unusual behaviors, Kaiser is tolerated and cared for by the community. Kaiser dies, without the suit, on tribal lands. He tells his sister to return the suit to the government. The last line of the story concludes, "And then [someone] figured, well, maybe that's the way it was when you went into the state pen or the army and became an American" (38). Although Kaiser succumbs to his circumstances in terms established and defined by the colonizers, the tribal community accepts him. They cannot liberate him from the mental and physical incarceration and its consequences, but they still embrace him. The communal acceptance and protection are a story of liberation over the law.
        Kaiser's story of resistance resonates with Ortiz's Acoma Pueblo heritage. The historical legacy of Acoma reveals that Ortiz is a descendant of survival. His ancestors survived the Acoma massacre of 1599 where more than fifteen hundred men, women, and children were slaughtered by the Spanish conquistadores (Francis 39). In 1680 the Rio Grande pueblos of what is now New Mexico revolted against the Spanish and drove them from the area. For twelve years the Pueblos kept the Spanish at bay, yet in 1692 the colonizers returned with vengeance and violence, which our Pueblo ancestors again survived. Even in the twentieth century the Pueblos united in a formal organization, the All Indian Pueblo Council, to resist and defeat the land-grabbing Bursum Bill of 1922. That organization continues today and is where Simon's father and my father (Taos Pueblo) worked together for the good of the Pueblo peoples.
        Simon Ortiz gives readers the keys to understanding his writing. His works are centered in indigenousness--land, language, and survival. His heritage is the cultural and historical context of Pueblo resistance that manifests not only in Kaiser's story but also in the body of Ortiz's work. There is no better way to celebrate the grace of his voice and to honor his works than to place his own voice at the center of understanding his writings.



1. For an excellent discussion of how oral traditions work in modern native literatures see Wilson, "Speaking of Home." Wilson discusses Ortiz in particular and refutes Arnold Krupat's dismissal of orality.


Francis, Lee (Laguna Pueblo). Native Time: A Historical Time Line of Native America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Gregory, Brad. "On Secular Bias in the Study of Religion." Forum Address. Brigham Young University. Provo, UT, 23 March 2004.

Howe, LeAnne (Choctaw). "The Story of America: A Tribalography." Clearing a Path: Theorizing the Past in Native American Studies. Ed. Nancy Shoemaker. New York: Routledge, 2002. 29-50.

Ortiz, Simon (Acoma Pueblo). "Interview." Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Ed. Laura Coltelli. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990. 102-19.

------. "Interview." Journal of the Southwest 31.3 (Autumn 1989): 362-77.

------. "Kaiser and the War." Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories. Ed. Ofelia Zepeda. Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Series 37. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1999. 23-38.

------. "Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism." MELUS 8.2 (Summer 1981): 7-12.

Rader, Dean. "Luci Tapahonso and Simon Ortiz: Allegory, Symbol, Language, Poetry." Southwestern American Literature 22.2 (Spring 1997): 75-92.

Tracy, James D. "Believers, Non-Believers, and the Historian's Unspoken Assumptions." The Catholic Historical Review 86.3 (2000): 403-19.

Warrior, Robert Allen (Osage). Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995.

Wiget, Andrew. Simon Ortiz. Ed. Wayne Chatterton and James H. Maguire. Western Writers Series 74. Boise, ID: Boise State UP, 1986.

Wilson, Michael (Choctaw). "Speaking of Home: The Idea of Center in Some Contemporary American Indian Writing." Wicazo Sa Review 12.1 (Spring 1997): 129-147.

Womack, Craig (Muscogee Creek). Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999.


A "Touching Man" Brings Aacqu Close


You have to not only see color but you must touch it, in a sense become that color, know it, let it become part of you. I think that old man knows. I like to watch him. He pushed his steel rim glasses with bony knuckles back up the bridge of his nose. I call him Touching Man.
        Simon Ortiz, "Two Old Men"

I must have perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a big bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and feet out. My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gnashes.
        Frederick Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Great distances of time, culture, place, and race separate Frederick Douglass from Simon J. Ortiz, but they are close enough to touch. Both know that they have life-giving stories to tell about the beauties and injustices of their times and places--times and places that are so far removed from most of their readers that they have to find powerful rhetorical strategies that invite those readers to allow the distant to "become part of [them]." Ortiz is especially conscious of this challenge. In the opening pages of Woven Stone (1992) he defines his literary calling as "[m]aking language familiar and accessible to others, bringing it within their grasp and comprehension, [this] is what a writer, teacher, and storyteller does or tries to do. I've been trying for {69} over thirty years" (3-4).1 "Grasp" is indeed a strong component of his mission. Like Douglass, Ortiz is a master of tactile imagery, and he uses this mastery to transform topics as remote and small as a dry root in a wash and as hidden and apocalyptic as the Jackpile uranium mine into living parts of us. In this informal appreciation--a small catalogue of poem excerpts with brief discussion--I can only skim the richness of this grasping. But my skimming at least suggests the diversity and sophistication of Ortiz's tactile imagery that makes graspable the death and destruction of people and land; the complexity of place and time; celebrations of creation and re-creation; and moving insights into a hope that mingles with loss, a hidden beauty and faith in survival in places of death, and a sense of loneliness that proclaims a deep sense of wonder.
        Ortiz is known for his condemnation of technological and governmental forces that wreak havoc in Indian Country. Three of his poems indicate the variety of ways he uses tactile images to voice his protests. In the "Electrical Lines" section of "The state's claim . . . ," he personifies a machine ("it pointed") that tears up the earth:

        When they were putting up the lines,
        there was this machine.
        The machine had a long shiny drill
        which it pointed at the ground
        and drove it turning into the earth
        and almost suddenly there was a hole (A Good Journey 256)

In "For Our Brothers: Blue Jay, Gold Finch, Flicker, and Squirrel," the impact of highway construction and cars is brought as close as a touch of fur, mutilated fur:

        I touch it [a squirrel corpse] gently and then try
        to lift it, to toss it
        into some high grass,
        but its fur comes loose.
        It is glued heavily
        to the ground with its rot
        and I put my foot
        against it and push it
        into the grass, being careful
        that it remains upright
        and is facing the rainwater
        that will wash it downstream. (A Good Journey 253-54)

The use of the tactile imagery in this poem is typical; Ortiz often saves powerful tactile images for climactic sections of his poems (in this case squirrel is the last of four road-kill victims) and images of touch are frequently enhanced by synesthesia (here the "smell" of "disintegration" immediately follows the above quoted lines).
        Possibly the most potent example of touching the core of technological and governmental impact appears in "Ray's Story," a poem from the "Too Many Sacrifices" section of Fight Back (1980). Despite the humor of the opening--the focus of the poem is "Lacey, from Muskogee," who is known for his enormous member--"Gawd, the Okies would say, / that Indian is big"--the foreman's (Ray's) story is one of impending doom (299). Lacey's job is the most dangerous in the uranium mine. He has to stand by the "vibrating chute" to watch for debris (drill bits, cables, timbers) mixed with the ore that could plug up the "Primary Crusher." When spotted, the debris has to be extracted by reaching, or even crawling, in to get it after signaling to stop the movement. According to the "official report," Lacy tried to grab for a moving cable, became tangled, and was sucked in, "right down into the jaws" of the crusher (301). Instead of the up-close view Ortiz offered in "For Our Brothers," we get indirect touches: the Forman became aware of the tragedy when he noticed that the crushed ore "was wetter than usual" and when he spotted the "only thing / that had been noticeable about Lacy before" (302). This instance of distancing from the actual process of crushing by concentrating on the "results" implies both the horror of the event--a death and dismembering beyond words--and the ways technology and destructive policies can distort the very meaning of life and death. Lacey's fate is a sickening tale of from dust to dust.
        Many of Ortiz's poems, especially in Good Journey and Fight Back, {71} imply or describe the destructive effects of technology and governmental policies on the land of the Southwest. But as reviewers and scholars have noticed ever since the publication of his first collection, Going for the Rain (1976), Ortiz celebrates the restorative powers of the land that offer healing counter forces in a technological world. Again tactile imagery plays a key role in making healing landscapes seem close at hand. After the dislocations of the second ("Leaving") and most of the third ("Returning") sections of Going for the Rain, one of the hopeful signs of change occurs near the conclusion of the third section in "East of Tucumcari." A man on a bus surprises the bus driver by asking to get off "sixteen miles east of Tucumcari"; he is "coming home," a home signaled by the "brown water / falling from a rock" but most of all by a literal act of feeling: "It felt so good / to touch the green moss" (116). This feeling of home is immediately linked by juxtaposition to images of fecundity, femininity, and origins of regeneration:

        It felt so good
        to touch the green moss.
        A woman between
        the mountain ridges
        of herself--
        it is overwhelming. (116)

        To the eye, the setting of "Dry Root in a Wash" expresses a striking contrast to the moisture of home's "green moss." But as in this poem from the fourth section of Going for the Rain ("The Rain Falls"), there is almost always more than meets the eye in Ortiz's poetry. In a subtle process of synesthesia, the visual images of the juniper root and the Shiwana "upstream" are framed by stated and implied tactile experiences. "The sand is fine grit / and warm to the touch," opens the poem; "Underneath the fine sand / it is cool / with crystalline moisture, / the forming rain" closes it (140). The speaker of this poem invites readers to permeate the dry wash visual images with tactile feelings of fineness and warm moisture and then fulfills those feelings with the promise of a dazzling ("crystalline") regeneration.
        There is more than the mixing of sight and touch in "East of Tucumcari" and "Dry Root in a Wash." As in most of his landscape images, there is the mixing of place and time: a touch of green moss becomes an emblem of the timeless forces of Earth Mother's creativity; a dry root reminds impatient humans to feel the promise of renewal in the warmth and hidden moisture of Her skin. Other poems strong in tactile imagery address more directly the continuity of the ages made manifest in the present. "Old Hills," one of the early poems in the second section of Going for the Rain, opens with a humorously provocative progression of understatement to hyperbole:

        West of Ocotillo Wells,
        the hills are pretty old.
        In fact, they're older than any signs
        telling the tourists where they're at,
        older than all of millennium's signpainters. (69)

The storytelling voice in this poem contrasts this depth of time with the shortsighted way a group of students measure their experience in these hills. They are making a film "worth six credit hours" (69). Again a tactile image heightens the contrast in the climactic lines that echo the opening and blend sight and touch to evoke memories of the ancient ocean that covered the Southwest:

        These hills are pretty old.
        Some have worn down to flat desert valley.
        Some stones remember being underwater
        and the cool fresh green winds. (69)

        Ortiz can also capture the touch of the past in images of humans as old as the hills. "Curly Mustache, 101-Year-Old Navajo Man" follows "Dry Root in a Wash" in Going for the Rain. "Curly Mustache" imaginatively gathers central regenerative images from this collection: hands, roots, hills, mountains, water, wind, and the poet as ancient trickster-cricket/cicada. The climactic stanza once again invites {73} closeness (in this case to great antiquity) with a tactile image charged with sight and sound:

        A thousands of years
        old cicada
        here one moment,
        one place
        in millennia.

        Tell me about the glaciers.
        Tell me if this is correct
        what I have heard: the scrape
        of a glacier sounds
        like a touching wind
        on stone, wood,
        in someplace mountain dream. (141-42)

        New life poems express some of Ortiz's most moving expressions of the time depths of the present and of regenerative forces operating in the timeless present. It is significant, though certainly not surprising, that the first personalized signs of new life in the opening section of Going for the Rain ("The Preparation") come in the form of tactile images:

        O child's tremble
        against your mother's innerwall,
        is a true movement
        without waste or hesitation,
        a beating of wings
        following ancient trails
        to help us return. (42)

The miraculous flutter of the human fetus energizes this and other poems (for instance, "The Expectant Father"), but Ortiz doesn't limit himself to the touch of new human life. An especially poignant poem expressing the spontaneous and profound interconnections between {74} the old and the young and among plant, animal, and human new life hinges upon a tactile image of new (mice) life. In "My Father's Song" a recollected child's voice recalls a rather ordinary interruption to the ritual of corn planting that a father's insight and love transformed into an extraordinary learning experience:

        We planted corn one Spring at Aacqu--
        we planted several times
        but this one particular time
        I remember the soft damp sand
        in my hand.

        My father had stopped at one point
        to show me an overturned furrow,
        the plowshare had unearthed
        the burrow nest of a mouse
        in the soft moist sand.

        Very gently, he scooped tiny pink animals
        into the palm of his hand
        and told me to touch them.
        We took them to the edge
        of the field and put them in the shade
        of a sand moist clod.

        I remember the very softness
        of cool and warm sand and tiny alive
        mice and my father saying things. (57-58)

        "My Father's Song" highlights an unstated motif running through my comments about Ortiz's ability to evoke closeness with tactile imagery: the central role of hands. Hence it is appropriate that I conclude this brief appreciation essay by concentrating on two of his best hands poems: "A Story of How a Wall Stands" from Going for the Rain and the "Two Old Men" section of "Poems from the Veterans Hospital" from A Good Journey. Both echo themes of death and destruction. As readers of Fighting Back know, the setting of the former--the {75} wall of the ancient graveyard at Aacqu--is a stone-hard reminder of many deaths going back to and before the successful Pueblo revolt of 1680 and the retaliatory massacre against Acoma in 1692. The latter more directly images the results of modern wars: a relevant "Indian" topic since in the twentieth century a higher percentage of American Indians have volunteered for the armed services than any other ethnic group in the United States. Both poems acknowledge by implication the dark sides of mortality, but the hands-on tactile imagery helps to balance the darkness with solid foundations of love and wonder.
        As in "My Father's Song," the father in one of Ortiz's most frequently anthologized and discussed poems "A Story of How a Wall Stands" turns an everyday (though extraordinary) sight at Aacqu into a powerful teaching experience. An ancient stone wall somehow restrains the weight of "tons of earth and bones"--"a graveyard built on a steep incline;" the father explains that the surface of the wall, which "looks like loose stone," is underpinned by stones carefully "woven together" and secured by mud expertly mixed "to a certain texture" (Going for the Rain 145). This sensible engineering lesson helps to explain the longevity of the wall (and graveyard) and helps readers to understand the origin of the title of Ortiz's collection Woven Stone. But the real power of the "lesson" is in the father's hands. In each of the three stanzas, the hands demonstrate, dramatize, and personalize, making the unseen foundation familiar to the young man and an unfamiliar, remote structure as accessible as the memories of a parent's touch and gestures to a willing reader. The repetition of the words constitutes auditory and visual reinforcement of the repeated hand motions:

        and with his hands he puts the stone and mud
        in place.
        [. . .]

        He ties one hand over the other,
        fitting like the bones of his hands
        and fingers
        [. . .]
        he says, "the mud mixed
        to a certain texture," patiently
        "with the fingers," worked
        in the palm of his hand.
        [. . .]

        He tells me those things,
        the story of them worked
        with his fingers, in the palm
        of his hands, working the stone
        and the mud until they become
        the wall that stands a long, long time. (Going for the Rain 145)

By the end of the poem Ortiz has woven the wall, hands, and story into one graspable mystery.
        "Two Old Men" has attracted less attention than "A Story of How a Wall Stands," but it expresses a touch as powerful as the lessons gestured by Ortiz's father. The "Poems from the Veterans Hospital" focus on "men broken / from three American wars" (A Good Journey 270), a topic and place distant from many readers and a topic that could easily invite depressing stereotypes of Indian victimization and alcoholism. The particular subject of "Two Old Men" is a silent old man--"He has never said a word that I have heard" (A Good Journey 271). wandering at the edge of a marsh. Instead of pitying this lonely, weak-eyed veteran, the observant voice of the poem is captivated, even awed, at the joy this nameless veteran's hands see in the colors of a common "tangle" of "autumn rushes":

        He believes that colors
        have shape, texture, substance,
        depth, life he can touch.
        I know they do.
        I believe him.
        When he is reaching
        his long bony fingers
        to a lettered sign
        or a dark spot in the sidewalk,
        there are the frankest features
        of delight, surprise, wonder
        in his face.

        I believe him.
        [. . . ]

        Form is not all
        nor hearing
        for the tensile mass
        vibrates against
        my tendrils
        the mind that sprouts
        and reaches into depths
        of the tips of my fingers.

        He touches me with spider tendrils.
        [. . .]

        Touching Man, you know things only
        a very few know, and that is your strength
        your aloneness.(A Good Journey 272-73)

As in his best poetry, Ortiz does not hide the suffering and loneliness of this "Touching Man," a torment that often reflects five hundred years of suffering at the hands of European and American wars and ways. But he also infuses this story with senses of survival, wonder, and delight that are made accessible to readers far from Acoma Pueblo by Ortiz's powerful sense of touch.
        Certainly Ortiz's other poetic senses--his conversational tone, his narrative skills, his creative use of explanatory prose, and his use of visual and auditory imagery--can bring readers close to his landscapes and concerns. And certainly there are many other significant examples of his power of touch (recall, for instance, in From Sand Creek [1981, 1999], the frightening image of blood spurting on the plains so forcefully that hands were as helpless as sieves at containing the outpouring). But I hope this rather old-fashioned bit of New {78} Critical image hunting and informal admiration offers insights into the intricate layers of Ortiz's craft and politics. One of the most important types of cultural and political "work" that American Indian authors can do is the creation of works that, to borrow words from the prose of "Two Old Men," invite readers, "not only to see," but to "touch" and "in a sense become" part of the realities of oppression and destruction, senses of place, time, and balance, and the gift of love and delight in the midst of graveyards and loneliness. Ortiz's grasp of the power of touch makes him one of the revered workers in these fields:

        It doesn't end.
        In all growing
        from all earths
        to all skies.
        in all touching
        all things,
        in all soothing
        the aches of all years,
        it doesn't end. (Going for the Rain 147)


1. All the quoted poems in this essay appear in Woven Stone (1992), which gathers together three of Ortiz's previous collections: Going for the Rain (1976), A Good Journey (1977), and an updated version of Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land (1980). Citations include the appropriate collection title and page number from Woven Stone. I would like to thank Simon Ortiz for permission to quote from Woven Stone.

work cited

Ortiz, Simon J. Woven Stone. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992.


Resistance and Continuance through Cultural Connections in Simon J. Ortiz's Out There Somewhere


Simon J. Ortiz explains that the title of his 2002 collection of poetry, Out There Somewhere, is intended to mean "out there somewhere in everyday experience somewhere in America" (ix). He adds, "But while I have physically been away from my home area, I have never been away in any absolute way" (ix). The poems in Out There Somewhere attest to the cultural connections that Ortiz maintains even though he might be in some location other than the Acoma Pueblo. The resistance one finds in the poems--against mainstream political, social, and economic forces--results in continuance of Ortiz's Acoma heritage. That natives can still be natives when they are away from their tribal homelands speaks to those who are urban natives, which is over two-thirds of the native population in the United States: those natives who have left the reservation for economic reasons; those native tribes who have no land base; those natives who have no federal recognition as official native tribes; and those natives who for reasons of patrilineal or matrilineal descent have no tribal affiliation. Although they are "out there somewhere," they continue to be native, as Ortiz so deftly demonstrates. A political thread runs through Ortiz's earlier poetry collections, and this essay looks at a few of the poems in Out There Somewhere to see how this literature of resistance continues through cultural connections.
        In the preface to Out There Somewhere Ortiz writes, "Yet at the same time that we are away, we also continue to be absolutely connected socially and culturally to our Native identity. We insist that we as human cultural beings must always have this connection because it {80} is the way we maintain a Native sense of Existence" (ix). In the first section of the book, "Margins," the opening poem, "Headlands Journal," speaks to the issues for which Ortiz is so well known. Ortiz was an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts (HCA) in Sausalito, California, in 1994. The HCA "seeks to explore and interpret the relationship between place and the creative process, and to extend appreciation for the role of artists in society" (Headlands). The poem has ten entries, dated from June 14 through July 14, and Ortiz reports on the conversations with his fellow-artists, the food, the weather, his health, alcoholism, memories, family, and a strong political attack on the U.S. government. The first entry is framed with romanticized descriptions of the moon: "The moon, the moon, the best kind of sky is the sunset light of the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly I'm too lonesome again" (3). In contrast, the central part of the first entry critically comments on the disproportionate number of natives in the Alaska state prisons: "When I say Alaska has a 17 percent Native population in the state and 70 percent Native inmate population in its state prisons, Victor shakes his head. Tanure nods yes, yes" (3). Both artists are from other countries, Victor from Mexico and Tanure from Nigeria, but they understand the injustice in the legal and penal systems that oppress dark-skinned people and those on the "margins."
        In the second entry, dated June 16, Ortiz has an exchange at dinner with three artists from China. One of the two interpreters with them is white, and when Ortiz asks him how he learned to speak Chinese, he says, "Because of the diplomatic corps"; Ortiz thinks to himself, "[O]h shit the fucking CIA" (4). The progression from the opening romanticized description of the moon to critiquing state prisons and federal organizations, which deal in foreign intelligence and national security, leads to the final verbal assault on the U.S. government in the ninth entry. The progression symbolizes romanticized notions of American Indians that are demythologized by the reality of oppressive institutions of authority.
        Ortiz contemplates the idea of "risk" in art that takes place at the HCA on land managed by the U.S. Park Service, and eventually concludes, "There is nothing at risk in this fucked up nation and epoch. / THEY got it all. And they don't have to risk. / THEY want us to risk. {81} But for THEM, there is no risk" (8, 9). The resentment toward "white people especially" builds to hypothetical resistance in imagining the kind of "risk" they could take (10):

        What would happen if we put up signs saying NO ENTRY.
        Signs which stated
        Signs which state:
                           You have stolen enough land and life.
                From here on out, you are no longer allowed access.
                               We claim back our land and life.
                                               Go away. (9)

        The entry goes on to consider the nature of "risk," noting that it must be more than personal: "It has to concern itself with ethical, moral, political, social, historical, spiritual, material issues and questions. Personal risk is the least at stake" (10). In accusing the U.S. government of stealing land and life, Ortiz relies completely on his Acoma Pueblo cultural connections for the history of colonization, a history that is never separated from him no matter where he travels. By examining the "relationship between place and the creative process," the mission of the HCA, Ortiz engages in an artistic act of resistance and decolonization, imagining the possibilities for a different relationship between the U.S. government and native peoples, one in which the natives are in control.
        Ortiz ponders a different kind of relationship--social interaction--in "Essentialism," also from the opening section, "Margins." After insisting that he knows "more about being Indian than [the reader]," he vents his frustrations in an unpunctuated stream of consciousness about inane questions that challenge his identity:

man sometimes i feel like punching someone out or even killing it's so crazy you know you just feel like when you get those stupid ass questions like some kind of test not that they're even serious queries but feel more like deliberate harassing and demeaning {82} ones that get you so riled you squirm and fidget and think insane twisted thoughts your emotions tangling and twisting your face and making you swallow hard (15)

Ortiz asks, "Is essentialism untenable? Or is essentialism tenable?" (15). He has always answered this kind of question by referring back to his Acoma Pueblo culture:

There is hope. It is in what past generations of our people have always said. As long as we keep believing in and living by the ways of our people, we will continue. As long as the story of our struggles, which is like the story of all people who deeply love and respect themselves and their culture, community, and land, is told, we the people will continue. (Surviving Columbus)

Ortiz frequently speaks about continuance through his cultural connections even when he is "out there somewhere" and people ask racist questions about his identity.
        Ortiz repeats the familiar theme of continuance and communal worldview as the supplicant prays in the first-person plural in "In the Moment Before," another poem from the opening section:

        As he prayed, he thought:
        the land, the way of life, the community.
        Ours. Our own. Our heart, blood, soul.
        Yours, the grandmothers and grandfathers said.
        Yours, ours, yours, ours, always, always. (21)

The title alludes to the moment before contact, when the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas could not imagine how their lives would change after contact. Ortiz acknowledges the ancestors and the future as he thinks of what is most important in his Acoma Pueblo heritage: land, culture, and community. These aspects of life are what constitute the peoples' ontological identity, and they will remain the same forever for everyone. In the second stanza, the speaker reasons why there must be resistance in the people's lives: "As he thought, he {83} prayed: / always this is ours, our way of life, / this is why we must fight for ourselves, always" (21). Having established what makes up life for the Acoma Pueblo community, the speaker argues that the people must fight to maintain that life, or the unspoken result is that their way of life will no longer be. Ortiz also equates thinking with praying, erasing any boundaries between intellectual thought and spiritual meditation, by having the two activities exist simultaneously. Not privileging one activity over the other, he reverses their order at the beginning of stanzas 1 and 2. To conclude the poem, the speaker moves from the past verb tense to the eternal present and recommends what action the people must take: "And today, we must think as we pray: / always one with our struggle, hope, and continuance, / always for the sake of the land, culture, and community" (21). Yet again, Ortiz urges the community to understand that as a group they must continually think of their resistance to outside forces in order to preserve their way of life, their identity, and their future.
        The second section of Out There Somewhere is titled "Images," and the poems are just that--images of natives, some of themselves and some that others have of them. The opening poem, "`Being Poor' and Powerless. And Refusing Again," deals with the economics of being native. The speaker thinks of himself when he does not have any money and the sense of helplessness that accompanies poverty: "I think of myself. Being poor, feeling mostly powerlessness because of it. I know, I know, poverty doesn't have to mean powerlessness. Yet that's how it mostly is" (35). Ortiz illustrates a history of natives being economically disadvantaged by the time line and characters in the poem. Roxanne calls the speaker and asks him, "Guess who's back in town?" (35). The speaker remembers back twenty-five years, but cannot think who might be in town. When Roxanne tells him that Mendoza has been living in a shack and is very poor, she "adds without sympathy, `He reminds me of my father'" (35). Hence, there are four native characters who understand poverty in a generational way: the speaker, Roxanne, her father, and Mendoza. However, Mendoza is, according to Roxanne, "still at it," which implies survival (35). The speaker remembers times in the past that he has been poor but refuses to be poor in spirit: "And I think of myself at times counting my {84} last pennies again. Feeling poor. Feeling poor again and again yet at the same time also refusing poverty I think" (35). The refusal is the struggle to endure despite the overwhelming odds of economic disenfranchisement. In fact, Ortiz compares the desperation that poverty engenders to the Unabomber's agenda and wonders "how many of us have made plans for bombs intended for corporations, their banks, and the police state that protects them from the poor and the powerless" (35). The conclusion indicates the extremes to which poverty will drive people and the resistance that people will affect toward the rich and powerful.
        Another poem from the second section, "Welcome to America the Mall," deals with economics and natives. After defining the mall with brand names and familiar chain stores, the speaker complains about a white friend who proudly boasts, "I'm glad my children are not consumer oriented" (43). The speaker agrees, but he is also angry about the class differences:

        I'm glad also.
        But it pisses me off she can say that.
        That she should say that.
        With no compunction about it.
        That she and her children can afford
        not to be consumer oriented. (43)

The friend's obliviousness to her family's status and privilege, to their ability to make a conscious decision about whether to engage in the capitalistic enterprise of shopping at the mall, reveals the gap between the middle and lower classes. The speaker is sympathetic to those who do not have the freedom to make such a decision, and he accusingly remarks, "This is America where poor people have to pay for bare survival" (44). In a country where malls have an abundance of goods, as listed at the beginning of the poem, the speaker implies that there is injustice in the inequality among classes when there are those who can scarcely eke out a living. He indicts those who are blind to the condition of the have-nots and reminds them that everyone is implicated in the production of goods and services: "This is the Mall. / Welcome. / {85} Because we're within it" (44). The inclusive "we" refers to natives, who work in the mall in low-paying service jobs, as well as the white consumers, who have the money to spend in the stores, and the mall represents the United States as a capitalistic nation. The critique of this system is resistance against the economic forces that keep the classes separate. Oritz's indignation at the insensitivity to the poor is reflective of his belief that people have responsibilities in life to those around them. In commenting on the stories of native authors, he writes that their stories "make sure that the voice keeps singing forth so that the earth power will not cease, and that the people remain fully aware of their social, economic, political, cultural, and spiritual relationships and responsibilities to all things" (Earth Power vii-viii).
        In "Gifts," part three of Out There Somewhere, Ortiz writes about the gifts that he finds in life, the new possibilities for hope, family, love, and regeneration, whether they are in the children and the promise of their future or in the natural world. In "Our Children Will Not Be Afraid," he speaks of his obligation to the earth:

        Marking my own stricken yet struggling word, I owe
        to this Earth Our Mother. Let my debt be without loss;
        let it be with song, joyous, affirmed, loving.
        For the reason is I am alive, you are alive, we are alive! (68)

The relationship to the earth and its support of life is clear, and the speaker asks for celebration of that sustenance through his writing, words that continue the "struggle" for survival. Ortiz has pointed out the relationship between language, the people, and survival: "There have always been those words which evoked meaning and the meaning's magical wonder. There has always been the spirit which inspired the desire for life to go on. And it has been through the words of the songs, the prayers, the stories that the people have found a way to continue, for life to go on" (Earth Power vii). He also recognizes the possibilities for today's children, predicting that they will succeed because of the inspiration of the ancestors and famous warriors of the past:
        Our children will welcome the call and song into their
        Their dreams will be engendered by Popée, Tecumseh, Crazy
        Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and all our grandmothers
        and grandfathers.
        And they will hear them say their lives are our lives,
        their hearts our
        And they will come to know it will not be the thieves,
        killers, liars
        but our people who will have victory! (69)

Naming the well-known warriors who resisted the encroachment of the whites, who fought for their people's land against the injustice of the U.S. government, signifies continuance through cultural connections to the past. Ortiz honors a history of Native American political resistance.
        In the fourth section, "Horizons," Ortiz looks at the possibilities beyond him, "out there somewhere," and includes poems in his native Keres language with an accompanying English version. In the opening poem of the cycle "Acoma Poems," "Kuutra Tsah-tseh-ma Srutai-kyuiyah" (Your Life You Are Carrying), he addresses again the relationship between the land and people: "This is the dirt / This is the land. / This is ours" (90). The land belongs to the natives, and the speaker claims that the people carry the earth rather than the earth carrying the people: "Dirt you are holding. / Land you are carrying. / Your life you are carrying" (91). People carrying the earth indicates a responsibility to the land, one of protection, a reciprocal relationship in which their very survival is at stake. Frequently Ortiz has commented on the relationship between the land and native writers: "[T]he inspiration and source for contemporary Indian literature [. . .] is the acknowledgement by Indian writers of a responsibility to advocate for their people's self-government, sovereignty, and control of land and natural resources" ("Towards a National Indian Literature" 12, emphasis added). In the poem's deceptively simple message, there is {87} an element of action that people should take: "This is what I am showing and telling you. / This is what I am telling and showing you" (91). Language and action cannot be separated. If people carry the land, they must also "control" their land, resisting the forces that would not allow that.
        In "Ever," the fifth section of Somewhere Out There, the poems are about relationships among people, the natural environment, and time, in that memories continue forever. In "Tsegi Canyon," the speaker begins with the single word "Motel," a place that connotes a transitory nature, but the symbol is immediately followed by "at the edge of stone," which implies a sense of permanence, such as the Tsegi Canyon will always have (116). The third line is simply "deep sigh," so there is serious emotion to be found in this setting (116). The speaker fears that the "deep sigh" "may be the last," but by the end of the poem he understands "It will not be the last / place, words, or motel" (116). In other words, the natural environment will continue, the words expressing emotion will continue, and the temporary places where people come together when traveling, such as in motels, will also continue. Life will go on. The underlying theme is continuance.
        The final section, "Connections After All," returns to a more political tone with the poems that frame this part: "Beginning and Ending Song: Part I" and "Beginning and Ending Song: Part II." There are connections for Indians "out there somewhere," both positive and negative. There are positive connections in "Smiling for Victory": "Don't anybody ever tell you that it is all in vain. / Don't anybody ever tell you that Indians never smile. / Just look at all those smiles!" (156). Ortiz subverts the stereotypical image of the stoic Indian who never wins and humorously affirms the survival of Indians "out there somewhere." Humor is also apparent in "Beginning and Ending Song: Part II" as the speaker resists the judiciary system by refusing to pay fifty dollars in bail to avoid a fifty-day sentence: "No way I'll stay or pay, Judge" (157). The guilty party refuses to participate in an "either-or" situation, to do jail time or pay the fine. Instead, he accuses the judge as the guilty one: "You honor no honor, Judge" (158). The "honor" alludes to the treaties in this country that the U.S. government has not honored. Thus, the speaker exhibits resistance, rejects {88} the verdict that others have handed him, and decides instead to survive on his own terms. He will not be incarcerated by a history of oppression and injustice. Repeatedly Ortiz has explained how natives have survived:

Throughout the difficult experience of colonization to the present, Indian women and men have struggled to create meaning of their lives in very definite and systematic ways. The ways or methods have been important, but they are important only because of the reason for the struggle. And it is that reason--the struggle against colonialism--which has given substance to what is authentic. ("Towards a National Indian Literature" 9)

        "The Beginning and the End" represents an endless story of how the speaker maintains his authenticity as a native, no matter where he is, whether in his home community, an urban location, or "out there somewhere" in America, and he does so through his cultural connections.


Headlands Center for the Arts. 11 Apr. 2004, http://headlands/org/.

Ortiz, Simon J. (Acoma Pueblo). Introduction. Earth Power Coming: Short Fiction in Native American Literature. Ed. Simon J. Ortiz. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College P, 1983. vii-ix.

------. Out There Somewhere. Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literature Series 49. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002.

------. Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People. KNME-TV Albuquerque and the Institute of American Indian Arts. Program Concept and Initial Development Larry Walsh. Prod. Larry Walsh and Edmund J. Ladd. Dir. Diane Reyna. Writer Larry Walsh. Original poetry written by Simon Ortiz and Rina Swentzell. West Los Angeles: PBS Home Video, 1992.

------. "Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism." MELUS 8.2 (Summer 1981): 7-12.


Morning Star Song


There is a revolution going on; it is very spiritual and its manifestation is economic, political, and social. Look to the horizon and listen.
        Simon Ortiz, From Sand Creek

Simon, I want to thank you in this way.
I want to honor you for what you have done for us.1
I don't want to use the language of academia
or its forms
because I want to thank you from the place where you touch me . . .
somewhere in my spirit.

You spoke to Tsis-tsis-tas sorrow
and I saw your word-magic
ease the hardness in the eyes of tomorrow.
You have taken our wounds and showed us
their counterparts
in each other,
from place to specific place,
from tribe to tribe,
from man to woman to child,
from generations past into the future.

You took our Aunties and Uncles,
writers from many tribes,



Beadwork by Bobbi Ann Blackbear. (Photo courtesy of the author.)


and showed them a road,
back in Al . . . bur-quer-que,
back in the 70s.
You put their feet on a path
and held their hands,
pulled them along into song
and re-story-ing the Peoples.
Yes, I know you all had your tears,
Your moments of cloudy anger,
but Love was at the center of it all,
and fire spread from your belly to theirs.
We still warm our hands at it now.
It still creeps through our palms,
en nos brazos,
en nos corazones,
and flames out in our tongues,
filling the air with smoke, cinder, and new growth.

You have gifted us--Wa-do.
You have fathered us--Ma-do.
You have mothered us--Ya-ko-ke.
You have guided us--Ni-a'-she-men.

Tonight, when I look up,
You are there.

I will follow you until morning,
where, transformed,
our children will map trails by you
for seven generations more.


        1. The Cheyenne look to the Morning Star to find their way, and that is how they regrouped after the massacre at Sand Creek. Because of the impact of From Sand Creek on my Cheyenne students, I thought this was an appropriate metaphor for Simon. Also, Simon has guided us all--he really is the one who broke ground and guided the whole American Indian literary re-{92}naissance back in Albuquerque in the seventies. Where would any of us be without him? Moreover, he taught us all to look beyond a narrow tribalism and see what we have in common with each other, with the world. The moccasin in the illustration is a Cheyenne Morning Star pattern.


The Work That Must Be Done


Although I can clearly recall the first day I met Simon, the memory of that afternoon doesn't quite fit my sense of reasonable time, because in many ways his words have guided me for much longer. I was twenty when I first read Woven Stone, at a time when I was shuffling off the heavy shame I felt as a mixed-blood Cherokee hillbilly from a poor mountain town, and Simon's deep love of land, language, and his Acoma Pueblo community--the substantive concerns of all his work--found a healing home in my spirit. It was a while before I read more of his work, as my focus quickly moved from literature by American Indians in general to Cherokee literature in particular, but each time I returned to Simon's poems, essays, and stories, I listened to new rhythms in his words, and new dimensions to the driving purpose of his writer's voice.
        Thus it was with no small bit of apprehension that I prepared to meet him for lunch on my first day as an Aboriginal literatures job candidate at the University of Toronto, where Simon was in his first year as a visiting professor in the English Department. After all, it's one thing to be inspired by a writer's work, but quite another thing to risk watching that inspiration vanish if the writer turns out to be something less than generous.
        I needn't have worried, because Simon was just as I hoped he'd be: kind, thoughtful, and certain in his dedication to the dignified continuity of indigenous peoples. Although I was still a graduate student at the University of Nebraska and felt rather overwhelmed by the rush and bustle of Toronto and the Anglophilic splendor of U of T, {94} Simon put me at ease during our conversation. He'd read some of my writing and shared his thoughts on it and made clear to me that there was a lot of work to be done in Toronto for whomever was hired for the position. It was my first personal meeting with Simon, and a memorable one, for he provided encouraging support coupled with high expectations.
        I was fortunate enough to be the chosen candidate for the job, and in the two years since, I've had many opportunities to work with Simon on a number of projects dedicated to increasing the presence, access, and visibility of indigenous people at the University of Toronto. Rather than focus exclusively on U of T or even on Toronto, Simon's attention starts with the local but also encompasses hemispheric and international indigenous concerns. He's given U of T a stronger name in indigenous studies and provided time, energy, and money to developing or enhancing projects like the Indigenous Literary Reading Series and the Aboriginal Studies Distinguished Lecture Series, which bring renowned native scholars, artists, and political leaders to share their knowledge with the city and university communities; an ambitious, interdisciplinary indigenous studies journal; and the development of a critical reference project on the literatures of indigenous North America.
        Simon's work and life are embedded in the teachings of the ancestors, the traditions and spirits of the land and the people. He has noted that "we are living today only because the generations before us--our ancestors--provided for us by the manner of their responsible living," and this ethic of respect and humility characterizes everything he does.1 He is an energetic mentor to young native writers and scholars across North America, leading us toward good creative and economic opportunities and reminding us by his example that our work is not just for ourselves, but for all our people today and in the days to come. Never content to just stay put and speak from the security of the Ivory Tower, he travels across the world to speak about the continuing indigenous struggle for justice and provides his poetic voice as a powerful healing tool in that struggle.
        As a professional writer and an indigenous professor, Simon is one of a small but growing group of native scholars and writers who are {95} reclaiming the academy for our people, and his example has been invaluable in helping me to see how my own scholarship can be richly rooted in my nation's intellectual and cultural traditions. And as a colleague and co-teacher, he has given me tangible teaching strategies for successful engagement with a wide range of issues, as well as support, guidance, and friendship.
        Simon's influence has traveled far beyond Acoma Pueblo and will long continue to do so; it is a great honor to have benefited from his intellectual and personal generosity. I am a better scholar, a better teacher, and a better person for his example. There are many others who can say the same.


        1. Simon J. Ortiz, Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing (Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1998), xii.


Revisiting the Regenerative Possibilities of Ortiz


As a graduate student in liberal studies at Dartmouth, and a recent transplant from St. Michaels, Arizona, I find myself returning again and again to Simon Ortiz. At St. Michaels high school on the Navajo reservation, I had Ortiz's epigraph to From Sand Creek plastered in large black letters on my high school classroom corkboard.

        This America
        has been a burden
        of steel and mad
        but, look now,
        there are flowers
        and new grass
        and a spring wind
        from Sand Creek.1

Such words seem crucial for us, in both my American history and my American literature courses, not only at a reservation high school located one mile west of the window rock, which marks the capital of the Navajo nation, but to any classroom throughout the country. Ortiz must be there. Few authors, poets or novelists are so deeply disturbed and enchanted by the stories that scar and mar the American landscape as Ortiz. His writing takes us from his tribal home of Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, to the massacred site of the {97} Arapaho and Cheyenne in southern Colorado, to the prairies of the Midwest, across countless cities, towns, and reservation lands. Consequently we are never unaware of where we are within Ortiz's lines, and that sense of place grounds us inseparably to who we are in relation to the country in which we live.
        In response to both a discussion of this quotation and my apparent pedagogy, a student once asked me, "Mr. Duquès, for a white guy you talk a lot about all of the bad things in American history. What about the good stuff, you know the `spring wind' and the `new grass' that's always gotta be there somewhere?" The question reminded me poignantly of the manner in which Ortiz can in so few words convey both the horrific tragedy of conquest and colonization, while at the same time find a space for possibility, a means for recovery that is never about forgetting but always occurs as a kind of recuperative remembering. He speaks of "bad things" which are so pervasive in our past, detrimental ideologies that persist today, pain that lingers, yet with a remarkably powerful sense of courage and optimism.
        I know my students at St. Michaels need this and can thrive upon the sentiments that imbue Ortiz's work, finding clarity and sense of self within his words, which exemplify both criticality and assuredness, condemnation and hope. Likewise, I know I need them too, in order to remind me as I continue to pursue further academic studies a long way from the reservation that, for a time, I called home, that often what is most cogent and essential in fields as diverse and interrelated as Native American studies, American studies, and cultural studies, is the work that is done not solely in the name of justifiable bitterness, visceral reconstruction of the past, and a fidelity to the representation of injustice, but work that sees such imperative subjects as the means toward reparative possibilities. What is more, I think that in lieu of the complex dynamics of a post-9/11 America and planet--where culture, religion, politics, and nationality are reinforcing binary oppositions with real world horrors--it is necessary for all of us to return to Ortiz's poetry. We must immerse ourselves in the simple beauty of his words, remembering what we often forget, acknowledging, as Ortiz tells us, that "repression works like a shadow," choosing not to overlook what is destroyed and beaten down {98} amidst those mentalities that operate under dichotomies that desecrate difference, learning not only from our own past genocides and massacres, but also recognizing the arduous yet fruitful process, circumscribed to a site, geographic or otherwise, that is regeneration.2


        1. Simon Ortiz, From Sand Creek (Oak Park, NY: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1981), 9.
        2. Ortiz, 14.


Tribute to Simon J. Ortiz


I think I first encountered Simon Ortiz's writing in Duane Niatum's Harper's Anthology of Twentieth-Century Native American Poetry. (Many of us, I'm sure, benefited greatly from this anthology.) I was especially moved by "A Story of How a Wall Stands," a poem that makes vivid and palpable the sustaining interrelatedness of family, culture, land, and language. In the same anthology I found "The Creation, According to Coyote," and was amazed by its multilayered significances, complex tone, and linguistic agility. After this introduction I knew I would have to keep reading Ortiz, and I have. His work continues to challenge and enlighten me and to give me great pleasure.
        I could say, simply, that my tribute to Simon Ortiz exists in my writings on his work and in the fact that I often include his poetry on my syllabi (thus I also know of his power to move students to new insights and recognitions). But I would like to be a bit more specific about just one of the many ways in which his work impresses: While he never stops advocating on behalf of native people's voices, rights, and history, and while he never suggests that the future will be easy, he bravely imagines that natives and others might find ways of living together constructively and creatively in this land whose history is so deeply, and often so differently, part of all of our lives. Examining the requirements and the implications of such a possibility is, I think, one of the struggles that makes After and Before the Lightning an important book. In this book he exposes historical and contemporary disasters of Manifest Destiny, but he also affirms the restorative poten-{100}tial in the human spirit and in the natural world. He insists upon painful recognitions and hard work--especially for his non-Native readers--but he also tells us all that if we commit ourselves to this work we may hope that "The future will not be mad with loss and waste," that a new dream

        wealthy with love
        and compassion
        and knowledge
        . . . will rise
        in . . . our America. (From Sand Creek 86, 95)

For this, among many other things, we owe him thanks.


Ortiz, Simon J. From Sand Creek. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2000. New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1981.


Prairie Songs and Poor Prayers


When I first met Simon Ortiz back in the early 1980s, a friend and I had gone to visit him at his home outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. We brought with us a tree, a sapling, as a gift to honor Simon's newborn son. Now that son and that tree are grown, but memories of our first visit linger.
        Simon asked me if I knew him, and I said no, except for knowing his work. He balked, as if offended, and said something about how knowing his work is knowing him. Then Simon asked my friend to tell the stories back to him that Simon had told him the last time my friend had visited. Bo was chastised for not being able, or not having the courage, to retell the stories, and Simon began again, telling us many of the stories that identify him as human, as Aacqumeh.

That evening Simon would lie down for a while and we would visit with his wife, but just as we were about to leave, he would be up again, ready to talk, to tell stories. I love him for that night. I can't exactly say why, except to say that people are most believable who have a deep belief--not as obvious of a thing as it may seem.
        Although Simon does not drink now, he was drinking at the time, drinking the way my mother used to drink and the way I have drunk myself, to obliterate sorrow while at the same time remaining aware, even intimately in touch with people, places, ideas. Believe me, I don't romanticize alcohol addiction or glamorize the longing and loss it entails, and neither does Simon. No. I speak of those three things together--being known through one's words, the importance of remembering stories, and climbing on the beast called Grief, a.k.a. Sor-{102}row, determined to ride, to let 'er buck! They are the truth and fierce beauty I associate with knowing Simon J. Ortiz Jr.: a child, a tree, a story, a lesson, a life, a sorrow, a joy, and a raging grief.
        Simon knows the howling winds of my own prairie homeland, and knows them as if he were born there. In "The Prairie's Song," Simon writes,

        More than anything else
        what we want to feel and finally know is the prairie's song.
        With this cored tightly always and forever enduring in ourselves,
        we can know
        all manners and dimensions of grief and we will not fail ourselves (83)

We pray our "poor prayer," as he calls it, when eloquent words fail us and when our pitiful selves know keenly how pitiful we are.
        I love Simon for his insistence on enduring, "cored tightly always and forever." Those who love Simon's words understand how that can be because his "before" and "after the lightning" become more than a season. He invokes a ceremonial space of grace and forgiveness, healing and remembering and being beyond all those abstractions into sky gazing and wondering--a gratitude for being alive.


Ortiz, Simon J. Out There Somewhere. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002.


Telling Our Daughters


There is a certain power that is compelling in the narrative of a storyteller simply because the spoken word is so immediate and intimate. It was the desire to translate that power into printed words that led me to write A Good Journey.
        Simon Ortiz, preface, A Good Journey

"To Insure Survival," which is often published as a freestanding poem, was also published in A Good Journey as the final movement of a much longer narrative, "Notes For My Child" (54-59). The first part of this longer narrative records the interior monologue of a father-to-be, beginning in the early morning of July 5, 1973, and moving through the taxi drive, the admissions procedure, the waiting room, and eventually to the birth of a daughter. Around the same time Simon Ortiz was writing this poem in celebration of the birth of his daughter Rainy Dawn, my own first daughter, Erin Carlisle, was born. But because it was 1976 and a C-section delivery, I wasn't present in the delivery room to welcome her into her new life. Even if I had been there I suspect I wouldn't have known what to do, what to say.
        About a decade later, in 1987, on a whim I applied to, and was unaccountably selected to participate in, an eight-week NEH Summer Seminar on American Indian Verbal Art and Literature. Near the end of the seminar the director, Larry Evers, passed around a sheet of paper containing the names of a dozen important Native American poets, and each seminar participant selected one of those poets for a {104} half-hour presentation. Since I was indisputably the most ignorant of all the seminar participants (having read only two Native American novels and a driblet of poetry prior to the seminar), I had absolutely no basis for selecting one poet over another, and so I simply accepted the one left for me: Simon Ortiz.
        Later that week I read A Good Journey from cover to cover, mesmerized by the motion of the language but unsure what I could possibly say about this work that would matter to my colleagues. As a fellow father, I finally homed in on his poems about his children, in particular his birthday song to his daughter in "To Insure Survival." The poem seemed to me to be the very form of my own unsaid, unarticulated feelings about my own first daughter's birth, some of my own unfinished business. Had I been witness, I thought, would that I were moved to such words.
        About a decade later, in 1996, I watched my second daughter emerge into the world of air and light. It was a terrifying moment: she came forth, howling, first a pale blue (I thought, Good lord, a Pict!) and then, suddenly and with no perceptible period of transition, bright red (I thought, Good lord, whose child IS this?), and eventually, after I cut the umbilical chord and she had buried herself in her mother's chest, she transformed into the pale complexion she wears to this day. Watching my daughter come forth triggered a sudden and certain memory of the opening lines of Simon's poem, in which his narrator describes the transformation of colors of his own daughter during her birth, changing from "blue, to red, / to all the colors of the earth" (58). So I wrote to Simon, asking his permission to use those lines as part of my own daughter's birth announcement, and of course he said yes.
        Then, as now, I read "To Insure Survival" as a dramatic monologue that is part emergence story, part introduction to Acoma traditions, part survival lesson, part prayer, and all love song. In stanza 1, cast in the present tense, Ortiz's narrator insures that the first story his child ever hears is the old story of the People's, and every new person's, natural identity with the land. In this case, the narrator fuses the image of enduring rock with the name of the newborn child, Rainy Dawn, by comparing her emergence to
        a stone cliff
        at dawn
        changing colors,
        blue to red
        to all the colors of the earth (58)

The sequence of colors here being identical with the sequence that his daughter's body goes through at birth. In the second stanza, the narrator assures his daughter that the Keresan creatrix figure, Grandmother Spider, has been weaving a "life to wear," a cultural and spiritual identity for her newest granddaughter to grow into, ever since the beginning of time and place.1 In the third stanza, again in the present tense, the narrator restates the identity of his daughter with a "cliff at sunrise" and emphasizes the child's kin identity with her own mother, whose blood the newborn child still wears (59). Then, shifting to the future tense in the fourth stanza, the narrator returns to the story of how spirit beings are working to insure her survival: he tells his daughter of her kin relationship to the katsinas, "the stones with voices, the plants with bells," who will gather at sunrise in five more days to dance welcome to the newest daughter of the People (59). For the poet/parent, as for Spider Grandmother and the katsinas, his daughter is the latest incarnation of the ageless project of Acoma cultural survival and renewal, and her survival insures this joint project of Spider Grandmother, the katsinas, and the People for at least one more generation.
        If, that is, she survives. What is easy to overlook in this poem is that it takes more than identity with the land and with Acoma traditions to insure survival, because, Grandmother Spider's project notwithstanding, life--especially new life--is very fragile. In addition to the connotation of ephemerality implicit in the name Rainy Dawn, there is the recognition of vulnerability in the narrator-father's vision of his daughter being "naked as that cliff at sunrise" coupled with the tenuous grip on survival he describes a few lines later: "You kept blinking your eyes / and trying to catch your breath."2 Given such shaky beginnings, whether this child will successfully complete the transition from womb to world is touch and go.

        This, I think, is why Ortiz shifts from present to future tense in stanza 4. The shift invites the child to anticipate the dawn of her fifth day in the Fifth World, that time when, according to Acoma tradition, the spirit completes the transition begun at birth. It is, I think, the poet's own attempt to help insure his daughter's survival, to keep her in his world with words: the katsinas will, after all, return to Acu to celebrate their daughter's arrival only if she is there to be greeted. This is also where the poem begins to read like a prayer disguised as a promise, a prayer endeavoring to become a promise, perhaps every father's prayer for his daughter upon her arrival. The poem's final line and fifth stanza, calculated to represent the fulfillment of Fifth World promise, repeats the hope of the previous stanza in the form of a four-word, four-syllable love song: "Child, they will come" (59).
        Four sunrises and five days after my younger daughter, Ellie, was born, she too was taken outside at sunrise--as it happened, the morning of the spring equinox--and introduced to the universe. Because this was Richmond, not Acu, there were no stones with voices or plants with bells visible to greet her coming, so we settled for the black-capped chickadee who came to sing up the dawn at sunrise for my daughter. Thank you, Simon.


        1. Ortiz, 58; readers may quickly, and correctly, recognize Ortiz's Spider Grandmother as identical with Leslie Silko's "Ts'its'tsi'nako, Thought-Woman" (1) and Paula Gunn Allen's "Tse che nako" (The Sacred Hoop 13) or "Sussistinaku, The Spider, Old Woman" (The Woman Who Owned the Shadows 207).
        2. Ortiz, 59; more precisely, the name "Rainy Dawn" conjures the image of dawn coupled with the blessing of rain. In the context of Acoma traditions, this rain can in turn be understood as shiwanna, the ancestor spiritstuff that works for growth and regeneration. According to Gertrude Kurath, there are four kinds of shiwanna or cloud people; the gentlest and most feminine of the four is "heyaashi," the mistlike cloud that sometimes appears around dawn and touches the earth like fog. See Ortiz's poem "Heyaashi Guutah" in A Good Journey (123).



Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon, 1986.

------. The Woman Who Owned the Shadows. San Francisco: Spinsters Ink, 1983.

Kurath, Gertrude. "Calling the Rain Gods." Journal of American Folklore 73 (1960): 312-15.

Ortiz, Simon. A Good Journey. 1977. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1984.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Viking, 1977.


Many Thanks, Simon, for a Wonderful Gift


When I think of traveling between past and future, bringing things I value with me, there's a poem by Simon Ortiz that I always think of. He wrote it as the seventh of his "Forming Child" poems (it is among the poems in his great collection Woven Stone), at a time when one of his children was forming in the mother's womb:

        7th ONE

        Near the summit, SE of Kinlichee,
        I saw a piece of snowmelt water
        that I thought would maybe look good
        on a silver bracelet with maybe
        two small turquoise stones at its sides;
        but then, I liked the way it was, too,
        under pine trees, the snow feeding it,
        the evening sunlight slanting off it,
        and I knew that you would understand
        why I decided to leave it like that. (44)

        This has not yet been canonized as one of the great poems of our age, but it will be--though, for Simon's sake, I hope not for many years, since it is much harder to write great poems when people are telling you what a great poet you are and wanting you to write more poems just like those that came before. We like what we know, and we want the same when it comes to our favorite poems and songs: play it again, Simon! But what he has done here is to keep that memory of a {109} particular place and time, that track of his past, and hand it over to the child. He has "left it like that," and yet he has also taken it as a gift to the child yet unborn. He has given it to anyone who can read or hear the English language and shares the gift of human sight and feelings. It is a turquoise and silver bracelet put into words, but as with the real silver and turquoise work of Pueblo people, it is also the mountain, snow-water, pine trees--the natural world--that are invited to come and live in the work of silversmith or wordsmith, who can craft a story with a little world inside it like good medicine, getting across its human and natural and divine gift of meaning.


Ortiz, Simon J. Woven Stone. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992.




Contributor Biographies

JONI ADAMSON is associate professor of English at the University of Arizona, South. Her publications include American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism: The Middle Place and an edited collection (with Mei Mei Evans and Rachel Stein), The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy.

SUSAN BERRY BRILL DE RAMÍREZ is professor of English at Bradley University where she teaches native literatures, environmental literatures, and literary criticism and theory. Her last book was Contemporary American Indian Literatures and the Oral Tradition (University of Arizona Press, 1999). Her current manuscript is entitled "American Indian Autobiographies: Storytelling and Ethnography in Navajo Country." She is presently completing work on indigenous women storytellers and their women ethnographers.

DAVID DUNAWAY, the author of a half-dozen volumes of biography and history, is a professor of English at the University of New Mexico. Awarded the first PhD in American studies from Berkeley, his specialty is the presentation of literature and history on public radio and television in such national series as Writing the Southwest, Aldous Huxley's Brave New Worlds, and Across The Tracks: A Route 66 Story ( Today, Dunaway is leading an effort to promote southwestern studies at the University of New Mexico.

ROGER DUNSMORE retired in 2003 after forty years teaching in the Liberal Studies and Wilderness and Civilization Programs at the University of Mon-{112}tana. His Earth's Mind: Essays in Native Literature was published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1997. His third volume of poems, Tiger Hill, Poems From China, is forthcoming from Camphorweed Press, Seattle, 2004.

MATTHEW E. DUQUÈS is a graduate student in liberal studies at Dartmouth College. Prior to coming to Dartmouth, he taught high school English and history at St. Michaels High School in St. Michaels, Arizona.

ROBIN RILEY FAST, associate professor of writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College, studies and teaches nineteenth-century American literature, American poetry, women writers, and Native American literature. She has published articles on poetry, co-edited Approaches to Teaching Dickinson's Poetry, and is the author of The Heart as a Drum: Continuance and Resistance in American Indian Poetry.

P. JANE HAFEN (Taos Pueblo) is associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is the author of Reading Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and editor of Dreams and Thunder: Stories, Poems and The Sun Dance Opera by Zitkala-Ša and A Great Plains Reader (with Diane Quantic).

JOY HARJO (Creek) has published six books of poetry. Her latest is How We Became Human, New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton). She has received several awards, including the 2002 Eagle Spirit Award from the American Indian Film Festival for Outstanding Achievement, the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Arts, an Oklahoma Book Arts Award for How We Became Human, the 2001 American Indian Festival of Words Author Award from the Tulsa City County Library, and the 2000 Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award. Harjo's first music CD was Letter From the End of the Twentieth Century, released by Silverwave Records in 1997. Her new music CD, Native Joy For Real is in release from Mekko Productions. She is a full professor at UCLA. When not teaching and performing she lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.

PATRICE HOLLRAH is the director of the Writing Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and teaches for the department of English. She is the author of "The Old Lady Trill, the Victory Yell": The Power of Women in Native American Literature (New York: Routledge, 2003).
DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and assistant professor of Aboriginal literatures at the University of Toronto. His research and writing interests focus on issues of indigenous literary nationhood, resistance, and decolonization. His indigenous fantasy novel, Kynship, the first volume of the trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder, is forthcoming in late summer 2005 from Kegedonce Press. A full-length critical study, "Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History," will be published by the University of Minnesota Press in fall 2005.

EVELINA ZUNI LUCERO (Isleta/San Juan Pueblo) is a professor of creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of the award-winning Night Sky, Morning Star.

DAVID L. MOORE is associate professor of English at the University of Montana. He teaches and publishes on Native American and American literatures and has taught previously at the University of South Dakota, Salish Kootenai College, and Cornell University. He lives with his family in Missoula, Montana.

ROBERT M. NELSON is a professor of English at the University of Richmond, where he teaches a variety of courses in American Indian literatures. For several years he was a co-editor of Studies in American Indian Literatures.

SIMON J. ORTIZ (Acoma Pueblo) is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and storyteller. He has received many awards, including the "Returning the Gift" Lifetime Achievement Award, the WESTAAF Lifetime Achievement Award, the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in Art, and awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and Lannan Foundation's Artists in Residence. He is currently a professor of literature and Aboriginal studies at the University of Toronto.

CARTER REVARD grew up on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma, where a tornado came through on a Sunday in 1942 but passed by on the other side. After work as a farm hand and greyhound trainer, he took BA degrees from the University of Tulsa and Oxford (Rhodes Scholarship), was given his Osage name and a Yale PhD, and then taught medieval and American Indian literatures before retiring in 1997. His books include Ponca War Dancers; Cowboys and Indians, Christmas Shopping; An Eagle Nation; Family Matters, {114} Tribal Affairs; and Winning the Dust Bowl. He hopes his New and Selected Poems: Songs of the Winethroated Hummingbird will be published in a year or so.

KENNETH M. ROEMER is an Academy of Distinguished Teachers Professor of English at the University of Texas at Arlington. His articles have appeared in American Literature, American Literary History, and SAIL, and his books include four books on utopian literature and Approaches to Teaching Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain, Native American Writers of the United States, and the forthcoming co-edited volume Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature.

KIMBERLY ROPPOLO, of Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek descent, is assistant professor of native studies at the University of Lethbridge and the associate national director of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Her recent publications include "Symbolic Racism, History, and Reality: The Real Problem with Indian Mascots," in Genocide of the Mind: An Anthology of Urban Indians, edited by MariJo Moore; and "The Real Americana," a poem in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. She is married and has three children.

KATHRYN W. SHANLEY (Assiniboine) is chair of the Native American studies department at the University of Montana. She has published widely in the field of Native American literary criticism on issues of representation of Indians in popular culture as well as about authors such as James Welch, Maria Campbell, Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Thomas King, and N. Scott Momaday. She recently edited Native American Literature: Boundaries and Sovereignties (Delta, 2001) and has a forthcoming book on the writings of James Welch.

LAURA TOHE is Diné (Navajo). She is associate professor of English at Arizona State University. She has authored Making Friends with Water, the award winning No Parole Today, and co-edited Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community. She writes essays, stories, and children's plays that have appeared in Canada and Europe, and has a book forthcoming, Tséyi', Deep in the Rock.
SARAH ANN WIDER is professor of English and Native American studies at Colgate University where she teaches courses in contemporary Native American literature. Frustrated by the ways in which conventional literary criticism perpetuates a colonialist mentality, she is currently working with other methods of interpretation that step out of the bounds of academic discourse.

Contact: Robert Nelson
This page was last modified on: 03/11/05