Grandfather by Ookishkimaanisii Johnston


no one would ever call you traditional

you’re not an oldschoolindian bristling with sage and sweet grass

you sing in church, sit in your chair strum your banjo smoke drink

shoot squirrels and raccoons from the porch.

But your mother wrapped you in the Indian way, and she taught your sisters

who swaddled me tight and secured, stopped my squalling

I fell asleep right away

You were in the bush when you were three years old

(did you carry a gun bigger than you)

(did you talk to the spirits then, did you walk in their world, before the priests?)

I’ve seen you hunt; I’ve seen you clean your kills. You taught me.

Mishom, Nimishomis,

I know you beat that priest up when he hit your brother

that you ran away from the residential school, that you made it all the way home

how many days, how many nights, did you spend alone in the bush, on the road

(but you were never really alone, were you?)

You joined the army then, you’re a veteran now. You carry the flags

into the pow wow grand entry, handsome in your pressed uniform, shined buttons

Mishomis, you’re a warrior, aren’t you, but no one would ever call you traditional.

Who would you be

Who would I be if they never took you? Would your low voice

burn warm with the words of our people? Would you sit next to me in ceremonies

I got my clan from you. What’s your name, the one

Creator gave you before you were born in the same room where you watch TV?

My mother reads the missionaries’ records and tells me stories

she translates to English from French from our language,

Nimishomis, those stories should come from you.

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