Teaching Indian Law with Poetry

I haven’t used literature to teach before, but, after reading Mexican/Yaqui poet Richard Walker’s work, I’m seriously considering it. In addition to containing many beautiful poems, Walker’s chapbook, The Journey Home seems like it is uniquely designed to help non-Indian students understand aspects of indigenous culture that some find difficult. For instance, in “Frybread dreams,” Walker meditates on a co-worker’s comment that frybread isn’t really Native and ends up explaining the interplay between colonialism and culture and helping readers foster an understanding of the genuineness of culture that has developed partly in response to colonial influences:

“Didn’t we pay the price for the right to
claim frybread, or at least to decide whether
to claim frybread as our own?
. . . .

Just as the communion wafer
joins in faith those who partake,
frybread joins those of similar experience
whose ancestors in good faith signed treaties
that sold millions of acres of land

. . . .

and received in payment baking powder, flour lard . . . .”

Other poems address the sense of dislocation that comes from growing up far from one’s tribal culture as a result of being adopted out or having to flee atrocities, in the case of the speaker’s great grandmother in “Children of the diaspora,” as well the irony and pain of not being recognized as an Indian for federal purposes. Another of my favorites is “Ki-kah’s laughter,” which looks at a Native child’s laughter as a symbol for the incredible resilience of Natives peoples.

The chapbook is available from Red Bird Chapbooks.

About Ann Tweedy

Tribal Attorney for Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, legal scholar, adjunct professor at University of Tulsa, and poet. Read more at www.anntweedy.com.
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3 Responses to Teaching Indian Law with Poetry

  1. This sounds like a wonderful idea. Poetry is much like song/music in its ability to communicate in spite of cultural differences. There some great Indian poets whose work could be employed: Joy Harjo, Steve Ortiz, Lucy Tapahonso, Sherman Alexie are just a few. Good luck with thinking outside the boxes! 🙂

  2. Fred Urbina says:

    Would be some dark poetry 🙂

  3. Trent says:

    Teaching Indian law with poetry, like talking with the taxman about poetry, is a thing I approve of.

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