This poem, by Acoma Pueblo poet Simon Ortiz, is the story of The People, from creation to modern times. The People are the group formed by all the tribes of North America, the Shawnee, the Lakota, the Pima, the Acoma, and many more.
Before the Europeans came, each tribe had its own creation story, each tribe had its own set of skills, and each tribe acknowledged the earth as the source of life.
Then Europeans came and settled on tribal land. They did not respect The People. They did not respect the earth. The People fought hard to keep the land, but ultimately they failed. The Americans sent them to live on reservations. The Americans made promises to The People, but many of those promises were broken. The Americans took the children of The People and sent them to boarding schools to try and make them into Americans. But the Americans have not been able to stop the telling of stories. The Americans have not been able to stop the sense of tribal identity. The Americans have not been able to stop The People’s respect for the earth. The People shall continue.
The poem reads as if it was meant to be read aloud. The repetition, when read aloud, is calming. It’s a story to listen to over and over again.
The illustrations are dated. The faces are expressionless. The people look almost like stick figures. The poem doesn’t need illustrations, but it is out-of-print now, and I can envision a new edition with illustrations that equal the power of the poem.
I know the history of Native Americans is much more complex than this poem. The poem, though, provides a solid foundation from which to build when learning what it is to be Native American.
The end of the book contains a short set of comments by Harriet Rohmer, the series editor. She notes that this is a teaching story.
I come away from the book with a sense of the overview of The People, and also with a profound sense that I am, as a person of European descent, an onlooker in the world of The People.