Johnny Rustywire

Johnny Rustywire: Native BornJohnny Rustywire: Red Hawk Tales
Red Hawk Tales
September 14

Johnny Rustywire: Red Hawk Tales


There was a small white envelope waiting for me when I got home.
It reminded me of some work I had done two years ago
on some land matters that ended up in federal court.
It was a subpoena.
I said be here at this time and don’t be late or else bad things will happen to you.
So I went.
It had been a long day,
not that day but the day before, trying to catch up on some things.
I had worked till 4 in the morning,
went to get some sleep for couple of hours
and got up real late…
what did the paper say…
8 and don’t be late.
Well it was about 9 when I got there.

The federal court building is a magnificent granite edifice,
marble and granite,
the court room all mahogany, quiet and stately.

I sat there waiting while the preliminaries were done.
It was one of those cases that was going to go a couple of days…
those lawyer types dressed in pristine white shirts, and black suits waved me over…
we will probably need you tomorrow they said…
but since you are a witness you will have to wait just outside,
don’t wander off we might need you.
I went outside and stood in the hallway.
It was a large hallway with white marble walls, cold and quiet.

A couple of people from the tribe were there,
Raymond and Everett were there names.
The case involved them and the work I did for them…
I stood there with them, all dressed to kill
with white starched shirts,
a blue tie for me
and a suit, one that I like that fits comfortable
and so I stood there with them.
We talked about fishing, and a little about the snow of late.
Them two from the tribe, dressed just as I, holding up those white marble walls…

The hallway began to fill little by little
people of different shapes,
from nations like Iran, China, Sweden, Thailand, Mexico and a lot more,
just down the hall.
I walked down there and saw a sign, a paper on a door.
It said, Citizenship ceremony at 1:00, assemble here.

We stood there and watched them as people kept coming slowly,
some with children:
an Hassidic Jew with a feathered hat,
an Indian woman in a sarong,
Iranian women wrapped head to toe.
They went into the room and spilled out into the hallway.

The court room where my case was going on was just off to the side,
a little ways from them.
As time passed the lawyers inside the court room took a break,
one of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the government came over
and stood with us three in the center of the hallway.

I had heard he was Native but wasn’t sure
so I sort of asked him where he came from.
He told me he was Seneca Cayuga and spoke to us of his people.
There we were, four Natives standing there,
quietly talking and looking down the hall at all those people just over there.

It was a naturalization ceremony;
they were to be sworn in as American citizens.
We all looked at each other,
and without saying a word walked over to the door
and joined the masses standing there…
these people from all over the world… wanting to be American.

I am not sure who said it, but one of us did.
“Maybe we should join them and get sworn in.”
We all started to laugh.
The people there looked at us,
us four making noise…
wondering what country we were from…
we looked at them closely and wondered how it would be…

so the break was over the case resumed…

I stood there for a minute and watched those waiting to become American
and they looked at me…
I thought about it
and after being told they did not need me to testify until tomorrow
I wandered over there into that room and stood there and watched them,
90 there were all together…
I found a place in the corner,
and watched them as they raised their hands
and swore their allegiance to America.

It felt strange to stand there and listen to them,
a Native American out of place.
A lot of things came to mind:
the history of misery,
genocide of my people,
the sicknesses and loss of land by people like this
who sought a dream at the expense of others.
But then on the other hand, we make our own future,
the past is done,
and we have to move on.
I am proud to be native,
an American,
a child of my father and mother.

I thought how it was to sit on a ridge way up high long ago,
to watch these immigrants move slowly onto our land,
and see that they came and came.
I think I would have watched with curiosity at first, then fear and then sorrow.

I never had to say anything like this,
but at times feel like a prisoner in my own land;
it is a great country,
but yet again, where do I fit in all this.

I stood next to a man from India.
He asked me, Where are you from?
I told him, I am born for Bitahni, the Folded Arms People,
and my father is Tsinalbiiltnii, the Mountain People.
I come from Dinetah,
and some would say I am Navajo, a Native American…
he looked at me and smiled at me…
he said are you here with someone…
No I said just taking a look around…
he said you come from a great country… and walked away…

I stood there and thought, I guess I am an American
and after listening to those folks talk about where they came from
and the difficulties to get to this time and place…
it made me think I am glad I am an American, and a Native…
despite all that has happened I prefer to live here,
and with it share the privileges it has to offer.
I wanted to extend my hand to welcome them but it was not my place.

I listened to a welcome speech by a woman from the daughters of American Revolution.
She seemed out of place.
I could see the mountains outside
and with it the images of my people long past
who stood there and watched others come into their land.

It seemed to me it would have been more appropriate
to have a Native American say welcome
not because we are any different
but because we share the same struggles
and though we are here my people struggle still with liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.
Come look at my reservation,
and see how we live
and you will see that we are not all free,
not yet anyway…
but I said nothing…
then I left to find me a burger and a Coke.