“No Matter What”

“No Matter What”

In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, 2021

Non-Natives can learn many things from Native Peoples. “Navarre’s” poem is a powerful example of this: 

Totem Pole
by “Navarre” a Native American resident of King County Juvenile Detention, age 15

My mistakes and what happened
Reasons why I’m here
Thinking about the past to the present
Trying to figure out how it began
How it’s going to end

My dad’s stuck in prison for life without parole
My mom is back on drugs
My brothers are in foster care
I’ve been homeless for three years

I look at the same totem pole every day
I think about the stories I’ve heard
There’s a man and a woman
back to back
They have each other’s backs
no matter what situation they go through

None of my family has each other’s back
We always go against each other
I don’t get it
I can’t go a single day
without being locked up or chased down

I live behind the totem pole in a park
It’s like a black hole
You can’t ever leave it. There’s no way out
Stuck there till the end
I’ve watched people get hurt, die, never leave
I hear stories about people
who spend their lives there

I keep watch after everyone that lives there
all the natives
making sure no one defaces the totem pole
Now that I’m not there, everything gets bad
When I’m not there, somebody gets hurt

My spirit animal is a black wolf
I have dark sides
that people don’t see

Everywhere I go, there’s life and death
There’s always a shadow on me
stopping me from seeing the light
Hopefully, the shadow will arise
so I can see the light

Dedicated to my family

 While “Navarre”‘s poem offers many lessons, one theme a reader can take away is the importance of story-telling. Despite the struggles of Navarre and the people living around the Totem Pole, narratives hearten the poet and the reader (stanza 3), along with the image of community–having each others’ backs “no matter what”. To contrast the importance of the collective, the poem also lifts up the importance of the individual (“Now that I’m not there, everything gets bad”). 

And so on this Indigenous People’s Day, we can reflect on those Native people who are no longer among us, along with the many who are still here with things to teach us so long as we are willing to listen.