I’m a non Native American. As an experience, I feel as though “An American Sunrise” gave me an emotional understanding of this history, and maybe more accurately, an emotional understanding of contemporary reality. It made me think, why did my classes teach about the Trail of Tears as though it’s disconnected from our current experience? as though there aren’t any present day reverberations of a recent genocide followed by mass cultural erasure? We teach our difficult history like it happened in a vacuum.
I read Harjo’s work on the heels of finishing another book written by a Native author, Tommy Orange, titled, “There There.” In this multi-generational story, complex and diverse Native Americans exist and live in American cities with storylines seemingly unrelated, yet they ultimately coverage and connect on their shared cultural heritage. As context in “An American Sunrise,” Harjo shares an anecdote of a native Bolivian woman telling her, in reference to being from the United States, “we thought John Wayne had killed all of you.” Both “There there” and “An American Sunrise” hit me over the head: HEY! Native people exist outside your history books! In a powerful claim to heard existence, these Native stories, Harjo’s poetry, and especially her song on the audiobook, ring soft and then ring loud in my mind.Listen: Joy Harjo: Poet Laureate of the United States | Beautiful Writers Podcast