A New Story

My school brought Simon Ortiz down to South Texas earlier this week for one its Native American Heritage Month events. He read several of his poems and even sang for us, but this poem is the one that stuck out the most for me considering how there have been a couple of recent highly publicized cases of obnoxious cultural appropriation lately (most recently, this No Doubt video). I have to share:

Several years ago,
I was a patient at the VA hospital
in Ft, Lyons, Colorado.
I got a message to call this woman,
so I called her up.
She said to me,
“I’m looking for an Indian.
Are you an Indian?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh good,” she said,
“I’ll explain why I’m looking
for an Indian.”
And she explained.
“Every year, we put on a parade
In town, a Frontier Day Parade*.
It’s exciting and important,
and we have a lot of participation.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “Our theme
is Frontier,
and we try to do it well.
In the past, we used to make up
paper mache Indians,
but that was years ago.”
“Yes,” I said.
“And then more recently,
we had some people
who dressed up as Indians
to make it more authentic,
you understand, real people.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well,” she said,
“that didn’t seem right,
but we had a problem.
There was a lack of Indians.”
“Yes,” I said.
“This year, we wanted to do it right.
We have looked hard and high
for Indians but there didn’t seem
to be any in this part of Colorado.”
“Yes,” I said.
“We want to make it real, you understand,
put a real Indian on a float,
not just a paper mache dummy
or an Anglo dressed as an Indian
but a real Indian with feathers and paint.
Maybe even a medicine man.”
“Yes,” I said.
“And then we learned the VA hospital
had an Indian here.
We were so happy,”
she said, happily.
“Yes,” I said.
“there are several of us here.”
“Oh good,” she said.

Well, last Spring
I got another message
at the college where I worked.
I called the woman.
She was so happy
that I returned her call.
Then she explained
that Sir Francis Drake,
the English pirate
(she didn’t say that, I did)
was going to land on the coast
of California in June, again.
And then she said
she was looking for Indians . . .
“No,” I said. No.

“A New Story” was published in Ortiz’s 1992 poetry collection, Woven Stone. (Source)

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