By John Marcus
On Friday, March 10th, we travelled from AIHFS to hear internationally known poet, writer and performer Joy Harjo of the Mvskoke Creek Nation. Our evening included traveling in luxurious comfort to the University of Michigan, due to the generosity of the Native American Studies Department.
Joy began the festivities with a beautiful native flute song and acknowledged the Ojibwe. She wanted to share that this is Ojibwe land and as American Indians, we thank the people who have always lived on the land. She told the crowd 20 years had passed since she was in Ann Arbor. She shared some interesting stories about her background, including that she is wind clan and apologized for the recent strong winds. Everyone laughed at this remark! Strong winds caused approximately 1,000,000 people to be without power in southeast Michigan!
She shared several poems and even played the saxophone. I wasn’t expecting the saxophone, but was pleasantly surprised. One of her poems was “Rabbit is up to Tricks.”
If you have not heard or read that one, I recommend it. It is very relevant to today’s times. This poem has a “trickster” in it. She mentioned that many American Indian nations have a “trickster” type character in their oral stories. These tricksters often show you the importance of following the traditional ways by NOT usually following the traditional ways. She mentioned that stories are universal in all cultures and we need to share more of them. Specifically, for America to heal, our stories need to be heard and shared. She feels that America is at a breaking point.
She closed her presentation with a question and answer period. One of the questions asked was if she preferred to be identified as American Indian or Native American.
She said she prefers American Indian (later even mentioned Indigenous), as do more of her generation. She also sees Native American as more of an academic term.
After the question and answer period, the crowd enjoyed complementary food, drink and snacks. In addition, guests had the opportunity to buy Joy’s books and have her sign them. I stood in line with one of our community members, Nancy Opatich. Thank you, Nancy, for allowing us to use this picture.
I would like to close this post with Joy’s comment regarding poetry because personally, I find poetry difficult to relate to, but now understand it better. She said, “Poetry is not about answering questions, it’s about asking them.” My question is “what is your favorite American Indian poem?”
Thank you to the following sponsors from that evening:
Dan and Carmen Brenner Family
Native American Studies
Department of English
Institute for Research on Women and Gender
University of Michigan Office of Research
College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Native American and Indigenous Studies Interest Group
Institute for the Humanities
Department of American Culture
Zell Creative Writing Program
Department of Afro-American and African Studies
Department of History
Department of Anthropology
Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies
LSA Residential College
Department of Women’s Studies
Special thank-you to Scott Richard Lyons, from the University of Michigan Native American Studies.