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Simon Joseph Ortiz (1941-)

What Indians?


              1The Truth Is: "No kidding?" "No." "Come on! That can't be true!" "No kidding."

              2"What Indians?" is my too-often unspoken response to people who ask "When do the Indians dance?" Like other colonized Indigenous peoples, cultures, and communities throughout the world, Native Americans have experienced and endured identities imposed on them by colonial powers, most of which originated in Europe. This imposition has resulted to a great extent -- more than we admit and realize -- in the loss of a sense of a centered human self and the weakening and loss of Indigenous cultural identity.

STRANGE

              1April 9, 1999, 9:15 A.M.
              2Snow in soft wet knots
              3falling,
              4coming down
              5through gray trees.

              6                                    Strange to think of Iowa and Kansas.
              7                                    And Washington where I've never been in winter.
              8                                    And Portland, Oregon, where I've lived
              9                                    -- elms and pines dripping with rain
            10                                    on Umatilla Street in weather like this --
            11Sellwood Bridge
            12over the Willamette River.

            13Strange...
            14                                    Nebraska, South Dakota, elsewhere...

NOT SOMEWHERE ELSE

              1But this is Salt Lake City, Utah.

              2Yeah, it could be elsewhere. In fact,
              3                                          it could be Somewhere Else City,
              4                                          United States of America, Planet Earth,
              5                                          but this is Salt Lake City
              6                                          right smack on the western edge
              7                                          of the center of the world, believe it or not.

              8Yeah, it's not elsewhere. It's not Somewhere Else City. It is

              9                                                 Salt Lake City
            10                                                 Salt Lake City
            11                                                 Salt Lake City
            12                                                 Salt Lake City
            13                                                 Salt Lake City

            14No where else but.
            15And, yeah, what a place, what a place.

            16       What a place to think of Indians.

            17"Where are the Indians?"
            18"What Indians?"
            19"You know, Indians."
            20"I don't know what you're talking about."

GREATEST BELIEVERS GREATEST DISBELIEVERS

              1                                         To believe or not to believe,

              2this was the question.
              3And THE ANSWER.

              4                                         Asked and answered and believed
              5                                         by the greatest believers
              6                                         and disbelievers the world has ever known.

              7Where are the Indians?
              8Where are the real Indians?

              9                                         There are no Indians.
            10                                         There are no real Indians.

            11There were never any Indians.
            12There were never any Indians.

            13                                         There were never any real Indians.

            14You mean... you mean, there were never any Indians? No real Indians?
            15   No Indians?

            16None.
            17Never.

"INDIANS" WANTED

              1Real or unreal.
              2Real and/or unreal.
              3They were made up.
              4It didn't matter.

              5                                                 They were what people in Europe believed.
              6                                                 They were what people in Europe wanted:
              7                                                 to believe.
              8                                                 They were what people in Europe wanted.
              9                                                 To believe.

            10Indians were what people in Europe wanted to believe. Indians were what
            11people in Europe wanted to believe. Indians were what people in Europe
            12wanted to believe.

            13"Indians" were what people in Europe wanted to believe.

            14"Indians" were what Europeans wanted. To believe.

            15"Indians" were what Europeans believed.

            16"Indians were what Europeans believed."

            17                                      Believe it or not.
            18                                      Believe it or not.
            19                                      Believe it or not.
            20                                      Believe it or not!
            21                                      Believe it or not!

BELIEVING THE BELIEF

              1They believed!
              2Oh my, yes, they believed!
              3Soon, very quickly, there were Indians!

              4If it's one thing Europeans knew how to do, it was to believe!
              5They still do, you won't believe it even though it's true!

              6Oh, their belief in the power of belief is powerful!

              7Their power to believe was beyond belief!
              8It was overwhelming!
              9They believed, they believed!

            10                                  Soon the Americans believed
            11                            since they were originally Europeans
            12                           and they yearned for "the old country."
            13                                       Oh my, they believed!
            14                                     They absolutely believed!

EVEN "THE INDIANS" BELIEVED

              1Indians were made up?

              2Yeah.

              3They became what people in Europe believed them to be? Indians?

              4Indians.

              5Yeah, Indians.

              6Soon there were Indians all over the place. But mainly in the New World,
              7especially in America! Indians thrived in the New World. That's where they
              8were seen the most. That's where they "belonged." That's where they
              9were the most Indian!

            10             Soon even "the Indians" believed there were "Indians."
            11               Soon even the "Indians" believed they were Indians.

            12Nonetheless they were people.
            13They were hanoh. They were peole who were themselves.
            14They were people who were their own people.

            15                                             See Indians.
            16                                          See real Indians.
            17                                       See real Indians play.
            18                                      See real Indians work.

            19                                 But there was nothing to see.
            20                                       There was nothing.
            21                               Because there was nothing there.
            22                                            Nothing real
            23                                              or surreal.
            24                                                To see.

            25                                          See real Indians.
            26                                                Where?
            27                                                Where?

            28                                                Where.
            29                                              No where.

WHAT WE KNOW

              1So where were the Indians?
              2What did Europeans see?
              3Did they see anything?
              4What did they see?
              5Did they see people?
              6Did they see people like themselves?
              7What did they see?

              8                                            What did they see?
              9                                            What did they see.
            10                                            What did they see.

            11                                     "Indians" who are our people

            12                              (The People, Human Beings, Hanoh, etc.)

            13              knew themselves as people. Different from each other. Speaking

            14            different and distinct and separate languages. They heard each others'

            15             languages. Their people had different names. They wore different

            16           clothes. They ate different foods. They danced different dances. They

            17           celebrated their differences. Yes, they were different but they were all
            18                                                   the same:
            19                              The People, Human Beings, You, Me.

ALWAYS JUST LIKE YOU JUST LIKE ME

              1                                    Meanwhile
              2                                 and meantime
              3                                   and always

              4                                After and before
              5                                    and during
              6                                    and always

              7           always no matter what always and always and even despite
              8the greatest believers and disbelievers in the world, they/we were peole
              9they/we were/are people we/they are people four times and without
            10number or need for number we/they are people like you and just
            11like me

Notes

10] Umatilla Street, in Sellwood, near Portland, Oregon, through which the Willamette River passes to join the Columbia River.

13] hanoh: Acoma word for 'people.'


Online text copyright © 2004, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Ortiz, Simon J. Out There Somewhere. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2002: 45-54.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/6/30


Other poems by Simon Joseph Ortiz