Indigenous People’s Day

Mine is one of the last generations, I suppose, that was taught all the happy American mythology about Christopher Columbus and how he, knowing that the Earth was round whilst everyone else thought it as flat, thought to sail all the way around, and so doing discovered a land of gold and honey that no one knew about.

“Was anybody here already?” one of my classmates or I must have asked.

“Oh yes, the Indians were here. And there was a bit of fighting here and there but there weren’t many of them and they eventually welcomed us and helped the pilgrims.”

“But,” I wish one of my classmates or I had asked, “if they were so nice and welcoming then, why were they bad guys later that we had to kill and now we play ‘Cowboys and Indians’ at recess?”


Here is a poem by Denise Levertov. It’s an English translation of a Spanish poem, that is itself a translation of a Toltec poem that predates the arrival of Columbus. We aren’t sure how many people lived in the Americas prior to 1492, but estimates tend to range in the tens of millions…and by a hundred years later, colonization from Europe had gutted that number down to a small fraction of what it had been before.


Vibrant cultures with trade and complex art and architectures and traditions…wiped out.

The poem:


The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
The true artist: capable, practicing, skillful;
maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.

The true artist: draws out all from his heart,
works with delight, makes things with calm, with sagacity,
works like a true Toltec, composes his objects, works dexterously, invents;
arranges materials, adorns them, makes them adjust.

The carrion artist: works at random, sneers at the people,
makes things opaque, brushes across the surface of the face of things,
works without care, defrauds people, is a thief.

From World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time.


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