Tag Archives: tribal college poems

A Little Skin in the Game

by Thomas Davis

a poem from a book of poems I have been trying to get ready to send to potential publishers, Meditation on the Ceremony of Beginnings. The book contains poems I have written over a close to 40 year period as the tribal colleges and the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium became powerful educational movements.

Institute of American Indian Arts students,
empowered by their sense of 21st century American Indian art,
had arranged with the Executive Director of AIHEC, Veronica Gonzales,
to have a fashion show at the AIHEC spring conference in Albuquerque.
Della Warrior , President at the Institute, was worried.
She lectured them about no nudity, proper decorum,
and how they were representing an institution
that had taught some of the nation’s most respected Indian artists
and needed tribal college presidents’ support to survive.

When the big day came after a runway had been built
and students had labored over their creations for weeks,
the show unfolded to thunderous applause.
Traditional buckskin creations were followed by dresses, pants, jewelry, shawls,
and other works in a dramatic, wearables-color-filled explosion.
Della’s admonitions had resulted in a respectable, creative, glorious show
paraded down the runway.

Then the evening’s last creation came out
from behind heavy curtain protecting back stage.
Ron His Horse Is Thunder, body lean and sculpted
as if it were the product of an Indian Michelangelo,
President of Standing Rock Community College,
poster icon for the United States Bureau of the Census,
attorney,
soon to be Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,
one of the most distinguished educators in the United States,
came onto the runway, dark skin oiled and shining,
wearing nothing but a loin-cloth and carrying a war club.

The Institute’s students had filtered into the crowd
and joined in as students, faculty, Presidents, and distinguished guests
went wild,
and Della climbed into the hole of her emotions,
shaking her head, and looking bemused.

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At A Kellogg Foundation Meeting in Mesa, Arizona

By Thomas Davis

He was a big man in Arizona
And sincere.
We were in Mesa, Arizona during the winter at a meeting
Sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation,
Tribal college Presidents and administrators, students, Board members, and faculty.
The white man in the tailored black suit
Had shown up and was invited up front to speak.
The Foundation wanted the mainstream universities and tribal colleges to work together with a common purpose.

The Chancellor of the University was careful and polite to begin with,
But then, as if he couldn’t quite help himself, he said:
“You know, I really don’t know what you people want.”
He gestured toward the crowd of Indian eyes and faces.
“I mean, the University of Arizona has developed programs
And reached out to the Reservations
Since signing of the treaties.”

The crowd of tribal college presidents and the others there
Didn’t say anything, didn’t move, didn’t clap, but looked interested and polite.
He clearly didn’t understand what Indian people needed.

Note: This is a poem from the tribal college movement. The incident happened a long time ago.

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Kahukura

by Thomas Davis

Two long days of writing a constitution
And making the structure of an accreditation authority
And then the long drive from Porirua to Hamilton
Through the Ruahine range of mountains
And the mountains and hills of the Wanganui River.
All through the day we passed from sunshine to storm,
Rain and even hail blowing out of clouds
That crept white and shifting down mountains
Where rows of pines waited for cover
Before they marched in maneuvers
Designed to confuse the eyes of hawks and human beings.

We traveled so long we forgot about the white manes of seahorses
That galloped in heavy winds beneath the ocean
Into the unmoving rocks of shore.

Rainbows walked ahead of us for hours,
Sometimes one, bright in its arching,
And at other times two, the dark one larger than the bright one
And always trailing behind,
A mother watching out for her adventuresome child
That once darted so close to us it made the wet branches of a pine tree shine.

We did not stop at the proceedings at Moutoa Gardens
Where Maori camped in bright colored tents,
Occupying ground in order to assert sovereignty
As old as the naming of the shaky isles by the Aborigine,
But passed gorges plunging to river waters
Below greenness that covered hills and mountains
And fell into valleys blessed by singing birds
That kept trying to tell of the rainbow’s walking glory.

At the Lady of the Waterfall, in the rain,
Mana Forbes blessed the stones we had taken to ourselves
After we climbed down steps to the waterfall
In the country of kings.

Note: After the World Indigenous Higher Education Consortium was founded in Canada, the next step was to begin writing a Constitution, which happened at Kahukura in New Zealand. This poem was written there.

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