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'Mother Tongue,' a Poem by Dawn Karima Pettigrew for National Poetry Month

The following poem comes to us from Dawn Karima Pettigrew, a writer, educator and radio host (for more details on her, see the biographical information that follows the poem). The theme reminded us of "Smiling Indians," a video made by comedy troupe The 1491s that is also the source of the happy faces above.


I decolonize myself by laughing.

My soft tongue will break a bone,

Bite apples of gold from settings of silver.

Just 30 pieces will ransom our lives.

Where 40 acres and a mule rule,

My laughter is a salve,

That halves the steps of righteous men,

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Ordered, bordered by round dance songs,

Wrongs, righted and set upright

As my giggling heals..

Hear me chuckle on the Trail of Tears

Fear my happy bliss of hope,

Reaching those imprisoned

Mentioning there is, for a little space, grace

And my joy is its balm.

Dr. Dawn Karima Pettigrew (Creek/Cherokee) hosts "A Conversation with Dawn Karima" a Native American talk show on TalktainmentRadio. The author of two novels, The Way We Make Sense and The Marriage of Saints and co-author of Children Learn What They Read, she lives on the Qualla Boundary. Her NAMMY-nominated CDs are The Worship of Angels and The Desire of Nations. She is also a journalist and award-winning filmmaker. She has a BA from Harvard and the MFA in Creative Writing from The Ohio State University. Her doctorate was completed at The University of Kentucky / Trinity Seminary. Dawn Karima Pettigrew is currently Ms. American Indian Beauty, and has reigned as Ms. Native American Worldwide, Ms. Native American Achievement and Miss North Carolina Achievement. She teaches Native American Studies at the university level, and is a beadworker , shellshaker and women’s traditional powwow dancer.