By Caryl Clem:
As a young child, I colored pictures of Pilgrims and Native Americans. I remember teepees and 2 seated skin canoes floating down rivers. Years later, I discovered most of my knowledge about Indians was either false or based on a stereotype. November is the month to honor our Native American Indians.
Powerful prose continuously unites people when they share life’s experiences. Distances disappear; the common desire for love embraces all. Joy Harjo, who has written poetry, published books and composed songs for decades; a Muskogee Indian was awarded the 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress on June 19, 2019. Her quote” how time and timelessness can live together in a poem” during one of her interviews provides insight into the depth of her prose. Playing saxophone in her band, “Arrow Dynamics”, several CD’s of her original music cumulated in receiving Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. Listening to her music allows you experience layers of harmony and song. Joy currently is writing a book that documents the contributions to jazz the Muskogee Indians can trace back to Congo Square in New Orleans.
New Orleans, Louisiana, world renown for gaudy, fascinating costumes featured during Mardi Gras celebrations. The Port of New Orleans constantly shipped slaves, a key labor force. Local Indian tribes had had their own conflicts with “White Rule”. Native Americans helped hide runaway Black slaves during Mardi Gras parades using elaborate costumes as a disguise.
The Cherokee Nation, a tribe from Iroquoian descent, inhabited the eight states in The Great Lakes area. Transportation across the water was done in huge hollowed out tree trunks, averaging 40 feet in length carrying 20 men. Families built log cabins. The food staples known as the “Three Sisters” of corn, beans, and squash are found in any supermarket. Spices for flavor and medicinal purposes were Sassafras, Sage, Juniper, and various Chile peppers. In 1621, an Indian Chief brought popcorn to a Thanksgiving dinner. The Spanish introduced peanuts to the Indians who learned to grow them. In the Northwest, symbols of marriages and births in a family were carved into totem poles: visible sign of their wealth and influence.
Education of its citizens was considered the great equalizer; The Cherokee Nation formed an accepted common language and ran a printing press publishing its own newspaper in the 1820’s. (Chicago’s earliest printer in 1833.) The literacy rate of Cherokee citizens in Oklahoma ranked higher than the neighboring states of Arkansas or Texas. Chief John Ross constructed the Cherokee Female Seminary in 1847, the first higher learning school available for women west of the Mississippi. The Cherokee Male Seminary opened in 1851. Cherokee sports included a stick ball game considered the beginning of Lacrosse, a popular sport today.
Native Americans are one of the reasons Americans are able to live in “Land of the Free”. Americans working on dreams coming true, in the country we love, all sharing the foundation given us by those who were here first.