Barefooted in the Snow

if i ran off from the mission once
i ran off a thousand times
but it didnt do me any good
     my folks would take me back
the very next day and id get
a whipping besides
     i dont think there ever
passed a day that i didnt get
punished for something
     i ought to be an authority
on punishment

we had to learn english and wed
never hear it except at school
     its a wonder we ever learned
     i dont remember any of the
teachers and dont want to
     why   i stayed in the first
reader till i was twenty years old
and then just got to the center of it
     the first half of the book
was as dirty as could be and
the last half was just like new

i dont like to think about the past
     people now dont know what
hard times are
     little children went barefooted
in the snow
     i dont know why the indians
sent their children to school
unless it was because they would be
better taken care of

Wallace Cook, b. 1880

James Treat is the author of Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era (Palgrave Macmillan / St. Martin’s Press, 2003; paperback edition, University of Illinois Press, 2008) and the editor of several volumes of native literature. At the University of Illinois, he teaches courses on indigenous religious and ecological traditions and on the place of nature in contemporary criticism. Treat is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. https://jamestreat.wordpress.com

This is a found poem drawn from interviews with elderly citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation recorded in 1937-38 and archived as part of the Indian-Pioneer Papers, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.

You can see another poem in 4.2 here.