The Powwow at the End of the World
BY SHERMAN ALEXIE
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.
In U.S. History class, we are studying about the first peoples, the Native Americans. When studying about the U.S., a curriculum must incorporate what came before. One of my favorite authors and poets, Sherman Alexie, reminds us, in his poem above, that when reflecting on what makes our great nation, we must reflect also on the Native experience.
What does this poem tell us about the beliefs of Native Americans? How can it inform us about the present and our future?
First, we see that there is a reference to water and floods. Various rivers are brought into the poem to give us a geographical reference point. I ask, myself, what can be happening in this area of our nation? Are Native Americans experiencing something on the reservation that deals with water -- like desertification or water rights or clean water or loss of salmon -- all of which can be tied to climate change?
Then we see that the theme of forgiveness is interwoven throughout. Might the spirituality of a Native American tribe incorporate this belief or value? And who must be forgiven -- the United States, the government, the people, the world?
I reflect upon the idea that salmon will tell stories at the end of the world. Images of salmon speaking around the fire dance in my head. I wonder, are salmon the ancestors, providing us with wisdom after the floods?
Have you ever been to a Powwow? I have. They are magnificent. I hear the drums -- southern and northern. I see the fancy shawl dances and the jingle and traditional dances. I reflect upon the imagery of the end of the world ending in a dance. Sherman Alexie demonstrates the belief that dancing is healing. After the floods, after the stories from the ancestors, after the laughter and learning how to honor the earth, the end will be a dance, and healing will be ours. We can begin, again. This is what can inform us today and in the future. So, history is not just the past, but the present and beyond.
Ms. Summer is a teacher, writer, musician and Spiritual Director/Coach. She has recently embarked upon a weekly podcast called "The Bayat Beat" where 3 generations in her family discuss many deep topics to understand this thing we call life! It is currently being listened to around the world. Check it out if you want to learn more.