For the longest time I had the United States poet laureate, Joy Harjo’s memoir, Crazy Brave (2013), in my Amazon wishlist. The book’s cover, which features the profile of a beautiful raven haired woman, made me want to know more about her.
I have always felt a kinship with indigenous people and their struggles, which, as a person of African descent, clearly aligned with my own.
Then, of course, there is Julie Dash’s groundbreaking 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, which intrigues with the intimation of long-recognized kinship between indigenous people and people of African descent.
And as a student of “Caribbean” cultures and histories I have learned about the maroon communities that were populated by both indigenous people and those who had been enslaved, but who together escaped to the mountains in search of refuge and respite from the barbarism of European colonialism.
A long time ago friend gifted me with Jack A. Forbes’ Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples (1993), but the book was dry and I was young, so it has sat on my shelves for decades. I do not plan to read it.
Last year as the work to honor and uphold Standing Rock took root while the capitalist Earth rapists forged on I came across Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s As Long As the Grass Grows: The Indigenous fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock (2019). Again, it seems daunting. But I plan to read it.
There is so much I don’t know, so much to know.
The need to learn more about indigenous struggles became even more urgent this past year as I read story after story about how, as it has done in African American communities, COVID 19 has decimated indigenous communities.
Beyond the news I figured I’d work with the personal, but how?
The universe was ready with an answer when, during my brief stint as part of a women’s writing group I was sent a poem by Joy Harjo entitled “Remember”
Here’s a video of Harjo reading “remember”:
I was brought to tears when I first read her words and have returned to the poem again and again—when I need to ground myself and remember what is truly important—which is often.
So, I returned to my Wishlist and ordered Crazy Brave on my kindle.
I immediately fell in love with the directness of the writing, intertwined with the poetry as Spirit worked through Harjo.
There are four sections introduced by orientations to the narrative via the four directions of the Earth, the Sun, the Winds, and the Waters: East, North, West, and South.
The narrative chronicles Harjo’s life from childhood through to early adulthood when she steps into her power as a writer.
Harjo’s story is a powerful one. She reveals a lot in a direct manner through her mastery of the word, but there are worlds in the silences.
Reading Crazy Brave is an experience that you have to have for yourself.
I promise, you will be forever changed for having done so.