Choke Cherry Faces – Elders Wisdom




..I stand on a tiny hill in South Dakota, prairie grass
brushing playfully at my feet and legs.

…..Looking down into a small stand of choke cherry 
trees, I see a group of women and children.

…..I must have lost track of time, for it is now 
the "moon of ripening cherries" ….not the month of June.

…..The children are laughing and gathering the 
berries… eating more than they keep.

…..The women's conversation too adult and boring to 
hold their attention for long.

…..Each woman brags on her family…on her warrior.
He is the greatest husband, father and hunter.

…..You would think that they are all married to 
Sitting Bull or Man-Who-Is-Crazy-About-His-Horses.

…..It makes me smile. The sky is turquoise blue.
The children scream with pure unadulterated joy.

…..A Hawk circles lazily… pretending not to see the 
prairie-dog town below. Too content to hunt.

…..Suddenly, softly at first, but strengthens into a 
powerful murmur, a ground shaking rumble is felt.

…..It must be Tatanka… the Buffalo… but he should not be 
traveling this fast in the heat of the day.

…..All eyes turn expectantly to watch the Pte
Oyate… the Buffalo Nation… thunder over the rise.

…..There they are! Running bodies, hooves flying, 
their drum-beat fills the Earth and Sky.

…..The turquoise blue sky is replaced by a darker 
blue. Little shining circles of brass light, on a field of dark blue.


…..It is not Tatanka…It is the "long-knives"… the US Calvary 
riding down on my little choke cherry faces.

…..Little round, brown faces, once so happy now 
shadowed in terror.

….."Ate… Father help us!"…"Leksi… Uncle help us!"….But the 
Warriors are far away, raiding the Pawnee for ponies.

…..They draw closer now…The smell of fear and hate 
mixed with horses sweat. A cloying scent to their little nostrils.

…..Sabers flash, dust churns, thunder-sticks boom!. 
The waseciu, their voices now hoarse from their war cries of death…

…..Death to the little ones……Death to women and 
the old ones…These are brave men…decorated men…American men.

…..They ride off laughing and shouting, pinning new 
ribbons of "honor" to their hats and tunics. Pieces of these People.

…..Now they are not afraid. How can you be afraid of 
a little one?.. of an old one?.. of a woman nurturing her family?

…..They ride away leaving puzzled little faces. Now 
stilled forever by cold steel…choke cherry faces…gone forever…

….. You ask me 
to seek the American dream?

…..The People were here before America was conceived.
….. They will be here when America fades to dust.

…..I do not begrudge you your American dream. But 
can we, the ancestors of these soldiers, make it a little less of an 
Indian night-mare?

…..Will we ever make the lies of our Treaties 
shine with Truth?

…..Make no mistake. If the American dream were a 
building… the foundation would consist of the desecrated flesh and 
bones of the Indian People. Their blood as the mortar.

…..I stand on this tiny hill, frozen in terror. My heart 
beating…. like a Northern Pow-wow drum.

…..As I watch, years turn to days, days to seconds. I 
watch those small fragile bodies turn to dust.

…..Finally as I keep my vigil, the last of their blood 
soaks into our Mother.

…..Slowly they rise from the ground and approach me. "Why?"
they ask me….I do not know…but I will ask, I tell them.

…..They shrug their little shoulders and go off sadly and 
dejectedly to wait for my answer.

…..Choke cherry faces… They don't want to laugh and play,
they just want their families back.

…..I watch at Sand Creek, the Washita and Wounded Knee. I 
watch the extermination of countless Indian Nations.

…..I watch my government and ancestors exchange sabers and thunder-sticks 
for black robes and crucifixes.

….. We send their children to Carlisle and other "Indian 
Schools"…we steal their language…we cut their hair.

….. We steal their children…we put them in play-dough
fun factories and try to squeeze out white children.

…..I watch the American dream unfold. I watch a crazy man 
carve ugly faces in their most Sacred Land.

….. The "Shrine of Democracy", you call it. Their blood 
bought you this "national treasure". It should be painted red. 

…..They have some extra, violently shed blood soaking 
Mother Earth's face….you can use that if you want to….

…..How many of you have visited this "shrine"?…How many 
of you have marveled at its greatness?

…..They do not deface your pictures of Jesus. They do not hold 
ceremonies in our cathedrals… They do not sell fry bread during Mass.

…..Why then is it alright to desecrate THEIR places of 
Sacredness?…….Oh, I see….maybe because we are not equals?

…..I watch young soldiers marching off to Vietnam, 
Somalia, Afghanistan, Croatia and Iraq to die for foreign human rights.

…..Are they not human? Do they not have rights? 

March to Iraq to help…but march to South Dakota first.

…..Make our words shine. We who are the ancestors of 
these horse soldiers ….. We are not to blame for what has happened to them.

…..But it is OUR government, not theirs. Only WE can 
change our laws… or HONOR them…if we want to.

…..Still in the face of this deep sorrow, they are asked to 
help heal us and what we think is our land.

…..Daily they pray for us and our missing conscience. 
Loving us and teaching many of us their most Sacred Ways.

…..Sharing with us their culture and their hearts. Slowly 
regaining their pride. The look of Eagles is emerging among them.

…..I stand on this tiny hill and call the children to me.
I promise them change. I promise them restitution.

…..Will you make this a reality? 

…..I have planted hope in their hearts. Will you help it 
grow from a seedling into a strong tree?

…..A giant tree of Red and Yellow, Black and White?
One that will stand forever?


Thank You Sister, for allowing me to share your powerful poem with the visitors to this website. ~~Looking Back Woman