Christina Rose

Taking Back the Beaches: Restoration, a Poem for Heritage Month

Richard Walker
11/30/13

Richard Walker, Mexican/Yaqui, is a journalist living on the Kitsap Peninsula of Washington state. He is a regular correspondent for Indian Country Today Media Network and is author of The Journey Home (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2012) and Roche Harbor (Arcadia, 2009). Four of his poems were published in the Spring 2011 Yellow Medicine Review.

Restoration

Newer homes line the beach
where my wife’s ancestors lived,

where the ancestors
played as children.

Shell middens and
other things
they left behind –

reminders of centuries
of family and
community life –

tell of the
Indigenous Presence
here.

We can still hear their voices
at this place.

Seals slap the water
to tell of our arrival.

Eagle, whose ancestors knew
my wife’s ancestors,
cries from a tall fir.

And yet these newer homes
are vacant.

In short time, thousands
of years of life
have been
replaced by silence.

In short time, thousands
of years of life
have been
replaced by extravagance
and selfishness.

And so on this day,
I decide to speak in a
language these
people will understand.

These people’s ancestors
declared our homes
abandoned when our
ancestors were away
fishing or harvesting
or visiting relatives.

They took poles that told
the stories of the people
who lived there

and put
them in museums.

They destroyed individual
and communal homes
and replaced them
with homes of their
own design.

And so I declare this
vacant beach
abandoned

and reclaim this place
for my wife’s people,
my in-laws.

I find a peeled, tide-smoothed
log on the beach
and raise it as a pole,

a symbol that this place
has been reclaimed.

If the builders of these houses
return and claim they
haven’t been adequately
compensated for their
homes,

I will consider their claims
in a way they will find
familiar.

(The Lummi Nation was
offered $53,000 for all of
these islands
by the United States.

Others who lived
here were offered
nothing.)

I offer a prayer that life –
the life of my wife’s people –
will return to this place.

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Comments

Russell Clepper 's picture
Russell Clepper
Submitted by Russell Clepper on
I hold your arms up in that prayer, Richard. Thanks for,your,poem.
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