Reflection on the Film "Tuesdays with Morrie" - Term Paper
For centuries Indigenous peoples in this hemisphere have raised powerful voices of resistance to the unjust treatment and outright genocide they have received at the hands of colonizers. This resistance has been, and continues to be, manifested through a variety of rhetorical venues: speeches, stories, poems, songs, and at times, when other avenues were exhausted, outright confrontation. But it is song that I am interested in exploring here, specifically the genre of contemporary Native music of the last fifty years. Since the early 1960s, Native American music has been bringing a unique fusion of the written word and oral traditions while also syncretically blending traditional instrumentation with modern electronic technologies. While the forms and styles of contemporary Native American music are always changing, the medium of song still serves, as it has for millennia, to transmit and process information important to Native communities: histories, philosophies, political concerns, social values, and stories. Likewise, they may be sung as expressions of joy, sadness, victory, defeat, love, or anger -- any emotional or spiritual feeling can be addressed in song. As Simon Ortiz () points out, "the substance [of a song] is emotional, but beyond that, spiritual, and it's real and you are present in, and part of it. . . . A song is made substantial by its context -- that is its reality, both that which is there and what is brought about by the song" (240). Let's think about that for a moment -- the context and how that becomes a song's reality. Honor songs, prayer songs, love songs, and encouragement songs are all sung with powerful words meant to do something significant for the People. Not only are songs "texts," but they are also active sites that can and do bring about change. I view them as valid Native texts for serious study in a variety of academic venues, from the classroom to national conferences. While some may think of these songs only as entertainment or amusement, their purposes are more complex if one really takes the time to listen. In fact, these songs contain viable educational elements -- sometimes subtle, sometimes direct.
Excellent Native musicians are active in all genres of the industry: jazz, blues, heavy metal, hip-hop, rock, country, punk, powwow, pop, folk; the list is endless. There are many innovative, creative Native songwriters contributing to the contemporary Native music scene these days. Award-winning artists such as Buffy St. Marie, Joy Harjo, Jim Boyd, Joanne Shenandoah, Rita Coolidge, John Trudell, Keith Secola, and Robbie Robertson are dedicated musicians whose work is a testament to the variety of excellent music available today. In this essay, however, I'd like to focus on the work of Trudell, Secola, and Robertson. All three are songwriters who incorporate viable messages of resistance into their songs designed to make us think and give us strength, demonstrating how Native oral traditions are evolving and continuing to function for Native people. Additionally, these songs can be excellent sources for engagement in Native American studies classes.
SparkNotes: Tuesdays with Morrie: Study Questions and
important and spiritually nourishing" (qtd. in Harlan 32). Similarly, a book placed casually on a bench by the table includes poems about Aunt Nelly that recognize her capacity for humor, which Stevens personally appreciated, and that acknowledge how special she was to her tribe (Stevens, e-mail). Thus, personal memories of a deceased aunt are eloquently combined with cultural memories of the Seminole Nation as a whole.
: "The heart is constructed of a promise to love. As it distributes the blood of memory and need through the body its song reminds us of the promise -- a promise that is electrical in impulse and radiation" (Harjo, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky 48). So says Joy Harjo. Muskogee Creek, born and raised, mother, grandmother, musician, painter, filmmaker, Joy Harjo is -- simply put -- among our finest living poets. In the above quotation, memory is visceral, and, like Creek culture, it circulates throughout the body of her work. And it is precisely the visceral that she often taps into to make the kind of connections between identity, culture, and memory that Cynthia has mentioned. Also, like C. Maxx Stevens, Harjo writes about the significance of remembering daily activities and everyday items: "The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat / to live" (The Woman 68).
: Ah, the kitchen table. The kitchen is the origin, in part, of Ruthe's memories of her grandfather and of Stevens's memories of her aunt. What we ingest and digest at that kitchen table, of course, is not just food, but thoughts, ideas, and memories.
: Precisely. The kitchen table appears in the work of so many women artists. Moreover, Harjo's ability to link past thoughts, events, and ideas to the ragged edges of present, often urban realities is a defining characteristic of her work. With a stunning mix of overlapping images and juxtapositions that so often mark her poetry as prophetic, painterly, and, as Womack argues, Creek in subject matter and sensibility, it is no surprise that Harjo likens her writing to the art of her friend, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Flathead Salish). According to Harjo, "Jaune Quick-To-See Smith's paintings are rich with levels of dream stuff intermixed with hard reality" (The Woman 59). "Levels of dream stuff " rub up against reality in the body of Harjo's work too, and therefore her memory takes many forms. In some of her poems, memories are worn by children, in some they are carried by the land itself or by our human bodies. In other poems memories are sparked by encounters with street people -- like that man from Jemez, "curled in the snow on the sidewalk" (She Had Some Horses 15) -- or in , "a crazy boy teetering there / on the sidewalk against morning traffic / too far gone to even ask for a / quarter" (How We Became Human 192). And of course the ancestors arrive. As Harjo has said of her horses, they just show up. Often they show up not to "serve as a quick, romantic, ancestral moment" (Womack 233) and not even always as a particular one or ones remembered, but almost the reverse. They remember us: "they do not forget us in the concrete and paper illusions" (The Woman 29).
: Maria, your discussion of the Harjo/Quick-to-See Smith connection and Harjo's reflection on ancestors and memory brings to mind Quick-to-See Smith's collagraph titled Celebrate 40,000Years of American History (1995). The title is stenciled onto an image of variously sized rabbits inspired by ancient petroglyphs. These images engraved on rocks have been found throughout the and, as Quick-to-See Smith reminds us, date as far back as 40,000 years ago. Quick-to-See Smith's collagraph takes note of the 40,000-year history of indigenous peoples in the before the arrival of Europeans. At the same time, it is a cutting reminder of how Western constructs of "American" history have rendered these ancient roots invisible. Anyone interested in the Harjo/Quick-to-See Smith connection should take a look at Subversions/Affirmations 1996 exhibition catalogue that surveys Quick-to-See Smith's art. The catalogue includes an essay by Harjo in which she continues to reflect upon the artist's insight into American Indian history and culture.
: Harjo and Quick-to-See Smith do appear to be twin souls, Cynthia. The closer they get to the ancestors, the more contemporary and, as you aptly point out, cutting their work becomes. For Harjo in particular, ideas about the importance of memory are evocative, and she uses them "to decenter the idea that things European are normative" (Womack 242). For her, as for many other artists, memory is a proactive vehicle in her work, an expression of the desire for fair play in this country of ongoing imperialism. By activating memory in language, the poet resists historical erasure, makes cultural connections, thwarts chronology, and demonstrates how to be in time that is timeless."Skeleton of Winter," an early poem from She Had Some Horses, clearly depicts the value of being in unbroken time. It's a quiet piece, not much remarked on by critics. Like the images in Quick-to-See Smith's collagraph, Harjo's speaker interacts with ancient petroglyphs: