(red) Indian Summer
Poem By Tony Jolley
Today you’d have been a happy-go-lucky girl:
A teenager up to your eyes in make-up and Maths,
Chatting on MSN and mobile,
And surfing certain bits of the Web
You’d probably prefer
Your parents didn’t know about.
But you were born into a nation and tradition
‘On the cusp’:
One Custer your clans could have coped with
(And did, rather comprehensively, I recall) ,
But countless, crashing waves of White Custers flooding relentlessly West
From Prairie to Pacific,
Set upon pushing you ‘into the sea’ both literally and historically….
That would be another, all-too-short a short story:
The peoples of Manitou, the Mystery,
Driven out by bigotry, technology, opportunity and inevitability.
One man saw the extinction in action: the dimming and dying of your light, realised that the last echoes of the oral tradition torch that had sustained your culture for thousands of years was all-but snuffed out forever:
One Edward Curtis.
There was just enough of the fading light left to leave an impression on photographic plate; so while that first and last, sad Red ‘Indian Summer’ lasted, while you were being shouldered aside and swamped by civilisation’s wake as its ship of state drove thoughtlessly through your still waters, he toiled this thirty-year twilight with a more benign white technology to act as witness to the last will and testament of your way of life.
Somewhere in this Herculean task of 20 volumes and 40,000 plates, his lens happened upon you, captured your carefree essence peeking playfully from under Buffalo hide….
And there it was
There it was in you – for it was you:
The heritage of generations,
The hopes of your nation.
You’re long gone now, Clayoquot Girl, I guess,
So I lift you and your peoples’ mystery
To the mercy of The Great Mystery
That you might not be forgotten,
That we might be forgiven.