Tuesday, April 20, 2021

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From the Interim Editor

Three Ojibwe poets and “Hearts of Our People”

In searching for a poem and an image to capture the theme of Return of the Thunders for this week’s issue, I found the poetry of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft/Bamewawagezhikaquay/Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky (1800-1842).

Schoolcraft is the first known Native American poet and literary writer to write and publish in English. (Many sources say she is the “first known Native American poet and literary writer” period; as if there were no Native American poets prior to her who might not have worked in English.)

She was Ojibwe/Anishinaabe and lived most of her life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan along the Sault Ste. Marie. I found a wonderful poem of hers which almost appeared on our front page. It’s too evocative not to share. You can hear it read in modern Anishinaabemowin here: poets.org/poem/pine-tree

To the Pine Tree

Pine! Pine! I said,

The one I see, the pine

I return back, to my homeland.

The pine, the pine my father!

Already you are colored

Forever you are green

So we already have arrived

Listen in that direction

Certainly I am happy

And I see

He was there I saw it myself

The pine, the pine my father!

Already you are colored.

Nothing, you did show me

Like that, the way it looks

Pine he is green.

He is beautiful

Forever he is the green one.

Zhingwaak gaa-ozhibii’aan

Translated by Margaret Noodin

Zhingwaak! Zhingwaak! Ingii-ikid,

Weshki waabamag zhingwaak

Dagoshinaan neyab, endanakiiyaan.

Zhingwaak, zhingwaak nos sa!

Azhigwa gidatisaanan

Gaagige wezhaawashkozid.

Mii sa naa azhigwa dagoshinaang

Bizindamig ikeyaamban

Geget sa, niminwendam

Miinwaa, waabandamaan

Gii-ayaad awiiya waabandamaan niin

Zhingwaak, zhingwaak nos sa!

Azhigwa gidatisaanan.

Gaawiin gego, gaa-waabanda’iyan

Dibishkoo, ezhi-naagwasiinoon

Zhingwaak wezhaawashkozid

Wiin eta gwanaajiwi wi

Gaagige wezhaawashkozid.

Reading about the translator, Margaret Noodin, led me to the poem which did appear, “It was Cloudy,” by Heid E. Erdich and translated by Noodin. This is a poemeo, an animated poem. After watching it a few times I knew I’d seen it before. Google brought me to the WorldCat entry for “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists.” I have this book on my shelf!

This piece was part of a travelling exhibit I saw at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2020.

The museum closed due to the pandemic within days after my visit. The exhibit had to wait until October 2020 to open at the Philbrook museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I cannot recommend this exhibit enthusiastically enough. My plan was to write about it and share images from the exhibit in the West River Eagle, but COVID had other plans. Online interviews, videos and a gallery are on the Renwick website: americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/native-women-artists.

Several Lakota artists are included and many Lakota/Nakoda/Dakota artworks and traditions are detailed including painting, quillwork, beadwork, photography, clothing, a cradleboard and much more.

It was the discovery of this connection which led me to publish Noodin and Erdich’s poem on our front page as a celebration of the Return of the Thunders.

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