The first poem I wanted to read for my Native Poem-A-Day project is Joy Harjo’s “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.” The title of this caught my eye first, and I purchased her book of the same name based on it. The poem is here, with my own discussion beneath it.
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings
I am the holy being of my mother’s prayer and my father’s song
—Norman Patrick Brown, Dineh Poet and Speaker
1. SET CONFLICT RESOLUTION GROUND RULES:
Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—
The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
By listening we will understand who we are in this holy realm of words.
Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
You must speak in the language of justice.
2. USE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS THAT DISPLAY AND ENHANCE MUTUAL TRUST AND RESPECT:
If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”
The lands and waters they gave us did not belong to them to give. Under false pretenses we signed. After drugging by drink, we signed. With a mass of gunpower pointed at us, we signed. With a flotilla of war ships at our shores, we signed. We are still signing. We have found no peace in this act of signing.
A casino was raised up over the gravesite of our ancestors. Our own distant cousins pulled up the bones of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren from their last sleeping place. They had forgotten how to be human beings. Restless winds emerged from the earth when the graves were open and the winds went looking for justice.
If you raise this white flag of peace, we will honor it.
At Sand Creek several hundred women, children, and men were slaughtered in an unspeakable massacre, after a white flag was raised. The American soldiers trampled the white flag in the blood of the peacemakers.
There is a suicide epidemic among native children. It is triple the rate of the rest of America. “It feels like wartime,” said a child welfare worker in South Dakota.
If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.
We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became as strangers to themselves even as they became strangers to us.
If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters in exchange “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”
Put your hand on this bible, this blade, this pen, this oil derrick, this gun and you will gain trust and respect with us. Now we can speak together as one.
We say, put down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs, and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise.
The sun rose over the Potomac this morning, over the city surrounding the white house.
It blazed scarlet, a fire opening truth.
White House, or Chogo Hvtke, means the house of the peacekeeper, the keepers of justice.
We have crossed this river to speak to the white leader for peace many times
Since these settlers first arrived in our territory and made this their place of governance.
These streets are our old trails, curved to fit around trees.
3. GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK:
We speak together with this trade language of English. This trade language enables us to speak across many language boundaries. These languages have given us the poets:
Ortiz, Silko, Momaday, Alexie, Diaz, Bird, Woody, Kane, Bitsui, Long Soldier, White, Erdrich, Tapahonso, Howe, Louis, Brings Plenty, okpik, Hill, Wood, Maracle, Cisneros, Trask, Hogan, Dunn, Welch, Gould…
The 1957 Chevy is unbeatable in style. My broken-down one-eyed Ford will have to do. It holds everyone: Grandma and grandpa, aunties and uncles, the children and the babies, and all my boyfriends. That’s what she said, anyway, as she drove off for the Forty-Nine with all of us in that shimmying wreck.
This would be no place to be without blues, jazz—Thank you/mvto to the Africans, the Europeans sitting in, especially Adolphe Sax with his saxophones… Don’t forget that at the center is the Mvskoke ceremonial circles. We know how to swing. We keep the heartbeat of the earth in our stomp dance feet.
You might try dancing theory with a bustle, or a jingle dress, or with turtles strapped around your legs. You might try wearing colonization like a heavy gold chain around a pimp’s neck.
4. REDUCE DEFENSIVENESS AND BREAK THE DEFENSIVENESS CHAIN:
I could hear the light beings as they entered every cell. Every cell is a house of the god of light, they said. I could hear the spirits who love us stomp dancing. They were dancing as if they were here, and then another level of here, and then another, until the whole earth and sky was dancing.
We are here dancing, they said. There was no there.
There was no “I” or “you.”
There was us; there was “we.”
There we were as if we were the music.
You cannot legislate music to lockstep nor can you legislate the spirit of the music to stop at political boundaries—
—Or poetry, or art, or anything that is of value or matters in this world, and the next worlds.
This is about getting to know each other.
We will wind up back at the blues standing on the edge of the flatted fifth about to jump into a fierce understanding together.
5. ELIMINATE NEGATIVE ATTITUDES DURING CONFLICT:
A panther poised in the cypress tree about to jump is a panther poised in a cypress tree about to jump.
The panther is a poem of fire green eyes and a heart charged by four winds of four directions.
The panther hears everything in the dark: the unspoken tears of a few hundred human years, storms that will break what has broken his world, a bluebird swaying on a branch a few miles away.
He hears the death song of his approaching prey:
I will always love you, sunrise.
I belong to the black cat with fire green eyes.
There, in the cypress tree near the morning star.
6. AND, USE WHAT YOU LEARN TO RESOLVE YOUR OWN CONFLICTS AND TO MEDIATE OTHERS’ CONFLICTS:
When we made it back home, back over those curved roads
that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the
doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.
We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story
because it was by the light of those challenges we knew
We asked for forgiveness.
We laid down our burdens next to each other.
Printed from PoetryFoundation.org – Joy Harjo, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc..
Source: Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015)
A few thoughts:
I feel like I need to re-read it many times, over a period of time, to really ingest it all. I also feel like this poem, while specific in so many things, can be universally understood by any Native group. Or indigenous group, really.
The term “conflict resolution” itself was so interesting to me, as I used to work with an organization that focused on that. And while it’s looked on as sort of an outlier of the justice system, there is something very Western in how the field itself is addressing conflict. This poem almost has the attitude of addressing those who are wanting to come in and “help” now.
I actually saw two different audiences addressed throughout. A white and dominant society audience. A Native audience, who are hurt by actions of that society, and other Native people swallowing and regurgitating those actions. There is a bite to the poem, but ultimately a tone of talking to someone who is already hurting.