The Lost People

“People, people, people,
listen, listen well to this song
passed on to me by our fathers.
It is about the pale men
who came to our shores
in big brown boats.

They doffed their hats and proclaimed, “Dear sirs, this land is ours”.
We laughed at their funny names and
wrinkled our noses at their peculiar fish smell.
They came up to us and said, “Give us your gold”.
We smiled and asked why.
“To protect you sirs.”
So we laughed some more and opened the temple doors.
We were children of the sun. We didn’t need gold, did we?

Years passed and their numbers increased with every boat load
while our numbers dwindled due to diseases
brought by those greedy men and women.
One day they came and put chains on our hands.
We sighed and asked why.
“To teach you civilization sirs”, they said.
So we bent our backs and tilled our/their lands.
Our sweat turned brown land into green fields.

Years passed, and our last chief
was murdered in the battle of bended knee.
Then they came and took away our children.
We cried and asked why.
“To build a new nation of equals sirs”, they said.
So we broke our hearts, sat around the fire and sang sad old songs.
What else could we do?
The laughter of our children had been swallowed by the molting moon.

Years passed and our faces were scarred
by the scattering of our nation in the ill wind.
They came and put a fence around our homes.
Our silent eyes voiced the unspoken question.
“To protect your culture sirs”, they said.
So we took to the false comfort of their moonshine
and burnt our bodies in a drunken rage.
Our young were converted to the religion of the crucifix.

Now, I’m the last of the bards left,
singing this forlorn song of our frustrated history.
Times have changed, promises on paper
have turned to powder, and you are all that is left of a glorious tribe.
So will you remember? Will you remember?
Will you remember to sing this song when the wolves dance and the coyotes cry?”

(Note: Translated by me from a Lushootseed song with kind permission of the Lushootseed Archive of Oral History, Puget Sound, Washington.)