"Your own tongue will make you deaf," I was told by an old Shoshone woman, as she was told by her grandfather, who was undoubtedly told by someone further away in our ongoing oral circle. It was one of those things you hear that rings of truth and sage wisdom. A maxim pithy enough to qualify as "Indian lore." One that will undoubtedly be sold one day for a dollar-ninety-five on bumper stickers; or will eventually find its way onto some counter-cultural postcard sitting on a dusty rack, in the newly-remodeled and desperately trendy "other" section of town. This does not, however, diminish its truth or its poetry and, coupled with something a friend of mine told me, presents a problem in writing this essay. My friend, after observing me closely, commented that I "speak into a vacuum." In a discussion, I will fill the uncomfortable void. She suggested this would make me successful, since there are always voids to be filled. I am well aware, however, that these uncomfortable silences are often manifestations of resistance, and it is disheartening for me to think that I grease the wheels of a rusty machine.


 

This leaves me in a quandary. To speak is a betrayal, yet I know full well that silence is a lubricant of its own. There is a beautiful story of assimilation that has a bear being tricked into learning the song of the meadowlark. At first the meadowlark resists teaching the bear its song, on the basis that the bear has a song of its own. The bear persists and becomes adept at singing the song of the meadowlark. He becomes so proficient that it is impossible to tell the bear from the meadowlark. Soon the bear has forgotten his song, and must decide whether to remain a meadowlark and fly south for the winter, or begin the hard trail of re-learning his own song. I was never told which he does.

Although I see a great deal of beauty and use in English, I am forever left with the knowledge that it is not my language and that there are traps and snares throughout.

 

As I slip down the trail
through the history of my own
(our own) language
I feel hollow verbs
like peanut shells
crunch beneath my feet
Kithleeta is to know
I am told
by one who should know
one who is required to know
but for me
I still sing my song in Creek
from a tape
hearing the melody
all music and no words
 
     

 

 

 

 "Caught in a World We Never Made: The Academy Through Indian Eyes" © 1992, 1995 by William Bray 
 
 

 
 
 


Original Graphic Images © 1995 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal
and Canéla A. Jaramillo
 

 

 

 

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