Indigenous People’s Day

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Pride and preservation, with poems by Catherine Allen and Andrew Brown.
7 minutes


October is the month we used to celebrate Columbus Day, the day that commemorates Christopher Columbus’s 1492 arrival in the New World. It commemorates the beginning of the colonization of North, Central, and South America by the Italians and the Spanish and the Portuguese and the French and the English. For the people who already lived here, however, it wasn’t much of a reason to celebrate. And still isn’t. And so Columbus Day has expanded to recognize those indigenous people, as well.

Which brings us to Quechua. In pre-Columbian times there were about 350 indigenous languages spoken in the Americas. Through a combination of assimilation, indigenous children in government boarding schools being forbidden from speaking their native languages, and various other factors, most of those languages have virtually disappeared. One of the few remaining pre-Columbian languages is Quechua; it’s still spoken by an estimated 8-10 million people who descended from the Inca, Kichwa, and other indigenous nations in and around the Andes in South America. Anthropologist Catherine Allen found this next poem, written in Quechua, in a book of oral histories compiled by two Peruvian anthropologists. And she translated it into English. “A Quechua Lament.”

The epigraph says, “sung by Lusiku Ankali, a cattle rustler, about passing his old home while being transported to prison in the city of Abancáy, Peru.”

When I reached the pass above Liwlita
Liwlita q’asata wasaparuptiyqa,
and crossed over the hill to the valley
liwlita urquta wasaparuptiyqa
the dove sighing pukuy-pukuy
pukuy-pukuycha waqayamuwan,
the quail crying liwli-liwli
liwli-liwlicha waqayamuwan,
turned into my mother, turned into my father
mamay tukuspa, taytay tukuspa,
and even the eagle screamed at me —
alqamarillan waqyamuwan,
so I knew I might never return
talbischá manaña kutiramusaqchu,
might never come back.
talbischá manaña wiltaramusaqchu.
If my sweetheart tries to come after me
Yanachallay qatimuwaptinqa,
show her the traces of skunk
añaspa lastrunta qhawayachinki,
show her the tracks of a fox.
atuqpa yupinta qhawayachinki,
Then Abancáy came into view
Abankaychata qhawariruptiyqa
all shrouded in fog
lumas phuychan pakayuchkasqa
hidden in highland fog.
lumas phuychan pakayuchkasqa.
Oh, when I never come back
Manapuniña wiltamuptiyqa,
never ever return
manapuniña kutimuptiyqa,
dear Mother, don’t weep for me
ama mamalláy waqayunkichu,
and Father, don’t sink into sorrow.
ama taytalláy llakiyunkichu.

“A Quechua Lament,” translated and read in Quechua by Catherine Allen, from Passager’s 2021 Poetry Contest Issue.

Andrew Brown said, “One of the first things my Lakota Grandfather taught me was, ‘Stand your ground. The ground you stand on is sacred.’ One of the first poems my White Grandfather made me memorize was “Lay of the Last Minstrel” by Sir Walter Scott, which begins: “Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, ‘This is my own, my Native Land . . .’” Andy said, “I’m very lucky nature placed such convictions and reverence for passion and language into my DNA.” Here’s his poem “Political Testament of a Lakota from Standing Rock Reservation.”

If you’d worked in the melon fields,
bent double, your back lashed
with the whip of the summer sun;
if you’d carried water from the pump
through clouds of choking dust,
and made a meal of beans and fry bread,
then paid the man for the privilege of work,
I could accept you as President.

If you’d lived in the Dakota cold,
cracking ice with an axe,
watching your husband go blind
from diabetes and despair;
if you waded in snow, and dug wild turnips,
boiled skunk cabbage, ate prairie dog,
and found your child gone mad huffing glue,
I would accept you as President.

If you’ll promise to give back
our Black Hills, and honor the promise
of every treaty the nation broke,
if you’ll care as much for our children
as the children of your loins, and if
you will truly live with us in defeat and poverty
while still keeping your dignity,
then you can be my President.

“Political Testament of a Lakota from Standing Rock Reservation,” Andrew Brown, from Passager’s 2017 Poetry Contest Issue. Andy also wrote the book The Chugalug King and Other Stories.

To buy Andy’s book, subscribe to, or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps. For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.

Due to the limitations of online publishing, poems may not appear in their original formatting.