In Celebration of National Native American Heritage Month
An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England
Edited by Siobhan Senier – University of Nebraska Press
“Dawnland Voices” introduces readers to the compelling and unique Native American literary heritage of ten Northeastern Tribes. This pathbreaking anthology includes both classic and contemporary literary works from ten New England indigenous nations: the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Mohegan, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Schaghticoke, and Wampanoag.
The following excerpt was written by Sherri Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation. It is a message written to her grandson, in the seventh generation.
My grandson, for so long I have awaited this day. I have been waiting for this opportunity to sit with you, eye to eye, heart to heart, and breath to breath. I have longed to see your face, touch your cheek and smell the sweetness of your breath. I have longed to hold you in my lap, to know how your head would feel nestled against my breast, as I sang to you.
Grandson, take my hand, walk with me, and listen to my story, Let me tell you who I was, so that you can remember who you are.
We are of this land, Penahwabskek, the place where the white rocks come out of the water. We are of these people, the Wabanaki, the people of the dawnland. You were born Awesus naka Kahkagus, bear and crow, medicine clans. The land that you place your feet upon contains my footprints; the air that you breathe contains my breath. In your blood, your DNA, you carry the wisdom of seven mother’s daughters and seven father’s sons. You are the seventh generation. The circle ends and is renewed within each cell of your body. You must know this. For just as I was responsible for carrying the seeds of your being within me, so too are you responsible for carrying the seeds of the seventh generation yet to come.
The blood that runs through your veins has nourished the soil beneath your feet. Millions have died to ensure that you would live. The road that you walk upon has been paved with the blood of your ancestors; do not dishonor them. Walk this red road with your head held high. Place you feet with certainty, knowing that the answers you seek already live within you. You are never alone. You carry a piece of us all in the matrix of your spirit.
The time that I live in is one of crises. As caretakers of this Earth our people have been charged with a heavy burden. Many have lost their way, blinded by generational wounds that have been ingrained into the public psyche, and deafened by the sounds of justifiable homicide and historical references of a people “destined to be conquered.”
Warriors of today do not wear leathers, feathers, or war bonnets. Warriors of today wear business suits, scrubs and jeans. They battle in the courtroom, boardroom and before Congress. They are in our schools, our clinics, and our banks. They secure our future by preserving the past. They teach our true history and inspire us to remember who we are in accordance with ancient kinship roles. They protect traditional lands, repatriate the bones of our ancestors, and secure funding for the health and well-being of our children.
Warriors of today carry the seeds for sustainable agriculture, they harvest medicinal plants and teach our young people how to survive with honor and respect for the Earth. They do not kill their grandchildren to feed their children. The warrior of today may look different from those listed in the history books, but their mission remains intact: to serve and protect their people and to ensure the survival of the generations yet to come. It is this mission, this responsibility that you must never forget.
My grandson, for so long I have wanted to stand beside you; to walk upon the banks of this river that has sustained our people for generations; to fish the waters that my grandfather taught me to fish; to navigate these islands that have provided us with shelter, and; to tell you the stories of our legends and myths. I have wished to sing you the songs of our people as you drifted off to sleep; to share with you the beauty of our language, to describe to you the magic of this world in a tongue that is ancient and true.
I have longed to share with you the threads of Indigenous knowledge, sacred knowledge passed down from generation to generation. To impart truths that stand the test of time, of honor, integrity, and a lifeway filled with respect. It is this sacred knowledge that teaches us of our connectivity to all things. It trains our ears to hear the voices of our children beckoning to be born, to hear the song upon the wind that calms our fears and the whisper in the trees that guides us along our path. It is the reassurance of the land as we place our feet along our journey. And, the lull of the waters as they carry us off into the dream-time. Sacred knowledge teaches us of our place in creation, as children of our people, children of the Earth, and co-creators of this universe. It teaches us of Uhkomi, Grandmother Moon and Kisuhs,
Grandfather Sun, of light and darkness, of hard work and rest. Sacred knowledge holds us in balance through the ever-changing tides of our existence, keeping us connected to each other and to all of creation.
My grandson, if you forget all else that I have shared with you today, I ask that you remember this: The gift that you have been granted, through the seeds of sacred knowledge, contains all the wisdom of our collective past and the guidance that you will need to lead us to our place in the future. This gift will teach you all you need to know of who I was and it will lead you to where you need to be for the seventh generation yet to come.
My grandson, the time has come for me to leave you. Remember my words and know that each time you place your foot upon this land, or in these waters, that I will be with you, standing beside my grandfather and all those who have come before you.
Sherri Mitchell is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation. She is an Indigenous rights attorney, writer and teacher. Ms. Mitchell is a contributing writer for Native News Online. You can follow her work on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/sacredinstructions or on twitter @sacred411