Tending the Fire: Native Voices and Portraits

Tending the Fire by photographer Christopher Felver with an Introduction by Linda Hogan and a foreword by Simon J. Ortiz, celebrates the poets and writers who represent the wide range of Native American voices in literature today. In these commanding portraits, Felver’s distinctive visual signature and unobtrusive presence capture each artist’s strength, integrity, and character. Accompanying each portrait is a handwritten poem or prose piece that helps reveal the origin of the poet’s language and legends.

As the individuals share their unique voices, Tending the Fire introduces us to the diversity and complexity of Native culture through the authors’ generous and passionate stories, reminding us that “Native Americans today are as modern as the Space Age, and each in their own way carries forth the cultural heritage ‘from whence they came.’ Their abiding legacy as the first people of this continent has found its voice in the hard-won wisdom of their art and activism.

University of New Mexico Press

Featured authors include: Francisco X. Alarcón; Sherman Alexie; Indira Allegra; Paula Gunn Allen; Crisosto Apache; Annette Arkeketa; Jimmy Santiago Baca; Dennis Banks; Jim Barnes; Kimberly L. Becker; Duane Big Eagle; Sherwin Bitsui; Julian Talamantez Brolaski; Lauralee Brown; Joseph Bruchac; Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle; Elizabeth Cook-Lynn; Jonny Cournoyer; Alice Crow; Lucille Lang Day; Susan Deer Cloud; Ramona Emerson; Heid E. Erdrich; Louise Erdrich ; Pura Fé; Jennifer Elise Foerster; Eric Gansworth; Diane Glancy; Jewelle Gomez; Rain Gomez; Sequoyah Guess; Q.R. Hand, Jr.; Joy Harjo; Allison Hedge Coke; Travis Hedge Coke; Lance Henson; Trace Lara Hentz; Inés Hernández-Avila; Charlie Hill; Roberta Hill; Geary Hobson; Linda Hogan; LeAnne Howe; Andrew Jolivétte; em jollie; Joan Naviyuk Kane; Maurice Kenny; Bruce King; Sharmagne Leland-St.John; Chip Livingston; Charly Lowry; James Luna; Lee Marmon; Molly McGlennen; Russell Means; Deborah Miranda; Gail Mitchell; N. Scott Momaday; Catherine Nelson-Rodriguez; Linda Noel; dg nanouk okpik; Simon J. Ortiz; Laura Ortman; A. Kay Oxendine; Juanita Pahdopony; Evan Pritchard; Mary Grace Pewewardy; Ishmael Reed; Martha Redbone; Bobby J. Richardson; Ladonna Evans Richardson; Barbara Robidoux; Linda Rodriguez; Wendy Rose; Kurt Schweigman; Kim Shuck; Cedar Sigo; Leslie Marmon Silko; Arigon Starr; James Thomas Stevens; Inés Talamantez; Luci Tapahanso; Nazbah Tom; Cecil Taylor; Rebecca Hatcher Travis; David Treuer; Terra Trevor; Quincy Troupe; John Trudell; Gerald Vizenor; Elissa Washuta; Floyd Redcrow Westerman; Orlando White; Kim Wieser; Diane Wilson; Elizabeth A. Woody

Goodbye Christopher Columbus

by Terra Trevor

In mixed race America all of our individual histories and cultures matter, yet since 1937, on the second Monday in October, the day Congress named Columbus Day, Christopher Columbus was allowed to ride herd. 

My son bounds from his classroom. Eyes filled with brown warmth, he peeks out from under a cap of shiny dark hair, holding a milk carton cutout fashioned into the shape of a boat, with two smaller makeshift vessels trailing behind. Out of the corner of my eye I see children clutching newspaper sailor hats and Columbus’ Ships coloring pages. 

With his eyebrows curved in question marks my sons tells me that there is also a song about Columbus, sung to the tune of Oh, My Darling Clementine. And then we both laugh at the absurdity. It’s both funny, and not funny. 

We are a mixed-race, mixed-blood Native American family. My son has older siblings and he knows there is controversy surrounding Columbus and his Day of recognition. But at age seven it’s not his job to carry the weight. As his mother that responsibility belongs to me. 

Columbus Day first became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937. After strong lobbying from the Knights of Columbus, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Oct. 12, 1937, as the first Columbus Day. Over the years the holiday celebration has become controversial: The arrival of Columbus to the Americas — followed by the European settlers — heralded the beginning of devastating movements against indigenous people and the demise of their histories and cultures. 

As a European colonizer he set the genocide in motion. The story of Columbus’ discovery and the indigenous people he misnamed as “Indians” continues to affect us with a duel identity misunderstood by mainstream America. 

For more than five hundred years Native peoples have been measured and have competed against a Columbus fantasy over which they have no control. 

Others argue that Columbus should not be honored for discovering North America because he only went as far as some islands in the Caribbean and never got as far as mainland America. Yet for many Americans, the Columbus myth has become real and a preferred substitute for reality. 

Aside from the fact that I’m of Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca descent, I am something else too — I am a woman. Rape of indigenous women of color became rampant and was tolerated by Columbus. A reported comrade, Michele de Cuneo — who wrote of a relation between himself and a Native female gifted to him by Columbus — supports this information. There are also reported accounts of Native infants being lifted from their mothers’ breasts by Spaniards and smashed by rocks. The further I dig into history more horrific acts are revealed. One account reports that he wrote in his journal on October 14, 1492, three days after being greeted with kindness by the Lucayan people (the original inhabitants of the Bahamas): “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I please.” As I try to disentangle truth from history I wonder why we celebrate the man in such heroic terms if so much about him needed to be hidden. 

Efforts to eliminate or rename Columbus Day in various states and cities have met strong resistance. In my hometown of Los Angeles, City Council voted to allow city employees to take Cesar Chavez Day as a paid holiday instead of Columbus Day, a move that prompted much objection. As a compromise, the council allowed city employees to celebrate either holiday. Finally the state eliminated the Columbus Day holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure, yet city and county offices still observe it. The Unified School District does not. Then in 2017 the Los Angeles City Council voted to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar, siding with those who view the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples in North America and elsewhere in the world. Yet the day remains a paid holiday, regardless of the name. 

In 1992, the city of Berkeley was the first to declare the day Indigenous Peoples Day. More recently Seattle, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Portland, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Olympia, Washington followed suit. South Dakota celebrates Native American Day instead, and Hawaii and Alaska, which also have large indigenous populations, don’t recognize it at all. 

Although alternatives exist, millions of Americans still prefer to celebrate Columbus Day and New York City’s Columbus Day Parade continues to thrive. 

To understand how deeply ingrained our U.S. collective modern fantasy of Christopher Columbus has become I turned to Google. A search for “Columbus activities for children” revealed 4,750,000 results (in 0.64 seconds) with lesson plans, songs, and teaching ideas. It is clear this compliant Columbus image, edited and embellished, is much preferred…and why not? His fantasy is colorful and brings something exotic to celebrate, like a visit to Frontierland.

First published at Matador Network. Reprinted in The Huffington Post

© Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.

Terra Trevor is the author of a diverse body of work. Her stories illuminate our humanity, remind us to be open, to connect, to hope, to question, or bring change. She writes from a mixed race perspective and is a contributor to 10 books, including The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal (University of Oklahoma Press), and Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices On Child Custody and Education (The University of Arizona Press). She is the author of Pushing up the Sky, a mother's story and is at work on a collection of stories tracing her journey as a young mixed blood Native woman into elder hood. Her work and portrait is featured in Tending the Fire: Native Voices and Portraits (University of New Mexico Press). Her work also has appeared in News From Native California (Heyday Books), The Huffington Post, Narrative Inquiry In Bioethics and Voices Confronting Pediatric Brain Tumors (Johns Hopkins University Press), and in numerous other books, anthologies and literary journals online. www.terratrevorauthor.com

  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel