The U.S. Poet Laureate led Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations Monday for Montana State University. The holiday celebrates Native Americans alongside their histories and traditions.
MSU’s American Indian Student Success Services virtually hosted Joy Harjo for Indigenous People’s day.
Harjo is in her second term as the nation's 23rd poet laureate. She is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and is the first Native American to be appointed to the position by the Library of Congress. Former U.S. Poet Laureates include Louise Glück and Robert Frost.
During her lecture, Harjo spoke about Native American traditional values and the history of Native American suppression in the United States. On Monday, Harjo also read work by other Indigenous poets along with her own poetry, including her poem, “Once The World Was Perfect:"
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn't know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, to this light to you.
Harjo said the poem is based on an Indigenous creation story.
Harjo recently edited a Norton anthology called, “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through”. The collection contains the work of more than 160 poets who represent nearly 100 Native Nations in North America. Published in August 2020, it’s the first collection of its kind.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report For America tribal affairs reporter.