walter echo-hawk talk

Last week we attended a speech by Walter Echo-Hawk, author, tribal-law expert and Pawnee from Oklahoma.  He is a brilliant speaker—warm, funny, incisive and inspiring in his ability to be positive and hopeful amidst decades of untangling legal trespasses enacted against Native American tribes.

Echo-Hawk discussed how indigenous people in North America are approaching an exciting new era of reclaiming human rights, led by internationally endorsed legal framework put forth by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Obama and the United States officially signed in support of in 2010 (the US was the last country to sign it).

Echo-Hawk sited the need for a national discourse on Native American human rights and human rights violations.  He pointed out that the US has made significant strides in designing policy that grants human rights to women and people with disabilities, but not for Native Americans.  Tribal cases lose over 80% of Supreme Court rulings, & indigenous peoples are among the most impoverished populations in the US, which is directly linked to an oppressive legal system that denies tribes human rights.

Legal framework for protecting human rights as outlined by the United Nations protects the basic right to exist and practice one’s culture.  To Native Americans, that means being able to care for and manage their traditional sustenance lands.

Just a few days ago in Maine, state governor LePage transgressed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by trying to deny Passamaquoddies fishing privileges on their own land, making threats to close their hatcheries, despite the fact that Maine tribes are sovereign nations with their own Fish & Game departments to enforce fishing & gaming limits on their territory.  Such human rights violations among us cannot be tolerated.

Echo-Hawk discussed how current US laws dealing with tribal-state and tribal-federal issues are based on colonialism and racism, which uses oppressive, abusive language based on the Doctrine of Discovery, such as calling Maine tribal peoples imbeciles who require parental guardianship.  Echo-Hawk spoke of the necessity for a new legal framework based on recognizing past and present human rights violations perpetuated against Native Americans, safety from further injustice, healing from wrongs, and enabling indigenous cultures to manage land and practice their cultures.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a blueprint for how to ensure indigenous peoples are allowed such rights.

When indigenous cultures are allowed to exist and flourish, practices of reciprocity and living in balance with nature create a healthier environment and better, more diverse world for everyone.  Human rights for indigenous people enables human rights for animals, water, air, and land as well.

Echo-Hawk ended his talk by calling for forgiveness and healing among Native Americans and non-Indians.  He described how all wisdom traditions contain forgiveness practices, and sited these steps for healing from wrongdoings:

1 Acknowledge that injury has taken place

2 The person who harmed another apologizes and asks for forgiveness

3 Person or community accepts apology and forgives

4 Offer voluntary acts of retribution and atonement to wipe the slate clean

5 Healing process allows justice and compassion

on Gabriela Mistral

Chilean poet & activist Gabriela Mistral is the first Latin American, and the only woman Latin American, to receive the Nobel Prize.  Mistral passionately devoted herself to poetry and a spiritual commitment to liberty & civilization, thru education & service, which she considered alternatives to barbarism.  She was a founder of UNICEF, champion of women and children, and an international worker in the struggle against poverty, illiteracy and oppression.

Someone who identified all her life with the poor and outcast, Mistral’s commitment to social justice and poetry make her revered throughout Latin America.  She placed value on communication and the gift of translating one’s own reality to the reality of another.  Her poems use language of clarity and truth that all people can relate to.

A distinctive author herself, Ursula Le Guin’s beautiful translations provide the first substantial collection of Mistral’s divine poems in both Spanish and English.

Mistral’s stanzas are so gorgeously visceral I can hear them thru my fingertips:

   Hincho mi corazón para que entre
como cascada ardiente el Universon.
El Nuevo día llega y su llegada
me deja sin aliento.
Canto como la gruta que es colmada
canto mi día Nuevo.
   Por la gracia perdida y recobrada
humilde soy sin dar y recibiendo
hasta que la Gorgona de la noche
va, derrotada, huyendo.
-by Gabriela Mistral
   I open out my heart so the Universe
can enter like a cataract of fire.
The new day comes; its coming
takes my breath away.
I sing, a hollow filled to overflowing,
I sing my break of day.
    For grace lost and grace regained,
I am humble, not giving and receiving
until the Gorgon of the night
flees defeated and takes flight.
-translation by Ursula K. Le Guin


Work cited:

Mistral, Gabriela.  Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral.  Trans. Ursula Le Guin.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003.  Print.

lucille clifton poems

being property once myself
i have a feeling for it,
that’s why i can talk
about environment.
what wants to be a tree,
ought to be he can be it.
same thing for other things.
same thing for men.
nobody mentioned war
but doors were closed
black women shaved their heads
black men rustled in the alleys like leaves
prophets were ambushed as they spoke
and from their holes black eagles flew
screaming through the streets
new bones
we will wear
new bones again.
we will leave
these rainy days,
break out through
another mouth
into sun and honey time.
worlds buzz over us like bees,
we be splendid in new bones.
other people think they know
how long life is
how strong life is.
we know.

lucille clifton’s poems mesmerize us with vivid imagery, powerful honesty and dreamy melodies.  deceptively simple, clifton’s short poems contain entire landscapes, histories, declarations and songs of myself.  the beautiful language coalesces into deep metaphors and brave truths about race, slavery, war, sexism and civil rights.

in humanizing the exploited earth, clifton humanizes exploited people.  she returns us to our ancient and innate humanity where we come from the sun, putting forth healing energy.

the lack of punctuation and capitalization gives the poems in good woman a streamlined immediacy that we admire.  each line break is music that produces a complete sensation.

we’re sympathetic to the view that everyone should be allowed to be who they are: the tree, the woman,the man, the rain.

lucille clifton is one of our most beloved art ancestors.


work cited: clifton, lucille.  good woman: poems and a memoir 1969-1980.  brockport: boa editions limited, 1987.  print.

plastic beaches

this video made us think of how the albatross have the widest wing span of any bird on earth; they are whale birds

and gulls are the eyes of god

humanity feeds them plastic

the songs are choked by styrofoam and pill caps of a plastic beach

truth & reconciliation

Today, the Wabanaki tribes and the state of Maine implement the first United States-based Truth & Reconciliation Commission around Native American rights violations ever.  It’s an exciting, historic moment for justice.  Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been used around the world—mainly in Africa and Latin America—to help victims and perpetuators of genocide, racism, war crimes, and other violence heal from wrongdoings and reach the truth of traumatic situations through restorative justice techniques.

The Maine TRC is centered on issues of Native children being forcibly taken from their families on reservations and put into white foster care families.  Simply for being indigenous, tribal children were taken by the state and forced into foster care, where they were often physically and sexually abused.

These human rights violations perpetuated against Native Americans are not a thing of the past.  Survivors are living out the trauma of such injustices right now—having to endure mental and physical wounds from state-sanctioned abuses—causing generational trauma to be passed down to descendants of victims in various ways.

Truth telling enables reconciliation and healing of life—when stories can be talked about, shared, understood and seen as truth by others, victims can move on from trauma and forgive.

More information on the commissioner seating event is available  here; and for more on the Maine TRC, go here.


There’s a documentary film about another Native American reconciliation effort, Dakota 38, here.

It tells the story of the 38 Dakotas who were hanged by the US government in Minnesota after a battle in 1862, the largest mass execution in US history.  The film traces the journey of present day tribal members who take a journey from South Dakota to Minnesota by horses to honor the lives of the 38 murdered tribal members.  The film is moving in how Native Americans involved seek the high road throughout, offering peace and accepting hospitality in the communities they travel through.  Dakota 38 also highlights groups who continue to be heavily marginalized–the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is one of the most impoverished communities in the US.  The riders in the story try to act with compassion & bring forgiveness to all they meet, hoping to spread reconciliation and healing.


Spit Temple, Cecilia Vicuña

Spit Temple is a compilation of poetic performances and autobiographical memory by Cecilia Vicuña, one of the greatest visionaries of our time.  The 2012 release is a blending of metaphysics, aerodynamics, humor and honesty, unlike anything else.

Vicuña shows us how the body is a wave that can tremble with ecstasy or sorrow, and how being in the presence of the poem is like being in the presence of the sea.

The text is ancient & present–beautiful documentation of Vicuña’s power of incantation and improvisation that creates music by playing with the sun and wind.

Spit Temple explains Vicuña’s non-method, which brings us closer to the non-knowing of mystery and the eternal trust required for being an outsider rambler jangle planet eye bloom.

Vicuña muses,

A poem only becomes poetry when its structure

is made not of words but forces.
The force is poetry.
Everyone knows what poetry is, but who can say it?
Its nature is to be felt, but never apprehended.

This is an important assessment: the forces are the poetry; the words are the lips.

Vicuña describes being in animal presence—and how we can be the slick black wings over ice sky.  We can use animal instincts to pay attention to the receptors of fur, a natural sixth sense always communicating with the earth.  Spit Temple describes how Vicuña grew up with no separation from the land; as a small girl  a rooster literally watched over her in a field for hours, telling her how to see and crow.  Vicuña tells us about her other art ancestors as well, such as Violetta Parra and Gabriela Mistral.

A native of Chile, Vicuña emerged as a performance poet during a time when genocide was being committed against her peoples—the 1973 Chilean coup.  Spit Temple discusses Vicuña’s political, spiritual and artistic foundations, and shows a continuance of her roots—using poetry as prayer, healing, political commentary, incantation, and defendant of humanity and nature.

It’s especially divine how Vicuña describes her childhood of inventing ways to overcome her fears:

“When kids threw rocks at me, I imagined that I wasn’t a few feet away, but high above, among the galaxies, watching us on that tiny planet below.”


“I was afraid of going blind, so I healed my fear by rehearsing blindness.  I rode my bicycle with my eyes closed, trying to guide myself by sensing the irregularities of the pavement beneath the tires, like reading braille. “

Vicuña is an ambassador of seed survival:

dwindle dwindle dwindle ?
Remember that song?
80 percent
of seeds
available a century ago
now extinct
and now I speak of other forms
of extinction
People wanted to know how this music
of the seeds
how the seeds’ song
began for me
it began on a hot

She parallels destruction with the divine, and environmental consciousness with natural reality.

“everybody knows that Antarctica

a good part of it is about to
onto the sea
the water
Bill McKibben I’m sure you know him
he was telling a story
of how in a place in Tibet
people started planting trees
and this had changed
the speed of the wind
so people instead of being attacked
by a brutal wind
would be
by a soft
stopped by trees”

She explains a universal truth: just as the peril we inflict on nature comes back to harm humans, the love we give to nature comes back to protect us.

Vicuña shows how repetition of breath can create song, and how threads pass between our hearts invisibly, as well as ceremoniously and symbolically in her performances, to create living poems.

“I’m awake now
and I’m taking the bus
and I’m riding the bus
and all of a sudden
and what do i see?
Threads coming from a building
to building
but they were
not empty like this, the
threads have pictures
and photographs on them
and what is it?
it’s the photographs
of the desaparecidos
of the people that had been killed
by the military
so the women
had devised
a thread installation
to run
all across
La Avenida de Mayo
between the Congress
and the House of Congress
white threads
with the pictures

-Cecilia Vicuña

Cecilia Vicuña reminds us of the stories of the innocent killed, and of the lifeblood we share and struggle to protect today; how the spit inside my temple is the same as the sap inside the tree.