Thomas LaBlanc (Tatanka; playwright) is a 73 year old Dakota son, father, grandfather and great grandfather, a poet, author, spoken word artist, actor, dancer, and activist. He is co-founder of Oyate Hotanin (Voice of the People), a 501 (c) 3 Native arts organization working towards a vision for the next 500 years of truth, art, healing, and change. He has traveled the world and did what he could for American Indians. He is a pipe carrier, a sundancer, Akitica/veteran, follower of the Dakota Wicohan and forever Dakota!
C&R: What are some of the immediate concerns in Indian country and Indigenous communities around the country as this crisis unfolds.
TL: American Indians need to continue our prayers and ceremonies, please make 12 red tobacco ties once a week, this pandemic will touch all of life. Poem: It dropped out of the sky, it was hiding far away, now, it is upon us all down here! Who threw it up there? Who made this deadly war star? It dropped out of the sky, It was hiding far away, now, it is upon us all down here!
C&R: Many Americans are scared about the future as the virus affects folks across the board in one way or another, often in profound and destabilizing ways. Thinking about five centuries of indigenous resistance and survival in the face of settler colonialism, one of the most destructive threads in this history has of course been the diseases brought by the invaders, which – paired with war, displacement and starvation – saw the near extermination of indigenous peoples across the Americas. Does that long history and the formative role of pestilence influence how you think about the current moment?
TL: I will use one of my poems to answer this question:
Pleiades Watching Our Weather Report
Pleiades watching! Presently, up north, the Indigenous are forced to change, icebergs melt, permafrost goes away, so, they go from hunters to gatherers, fishing in boats in winter, cannot walk on ice to hunt, no more our southern relatives go to glacial mountain, they call snow star to pray and heal, it is disappearing, Pleiades watching, drink herbs to make our immune systems strong, make ceremonial teas, CO2 and water rising get ready to change or die, them trees are not coming back, wild horses will run by you, make ceremony, do ceremony, do not fear death, celebrate life, make ceremony, do ceremony, as it gets hotter, what happened way back then, will again, but, faster, shorelines running inland, cities going under, storms getting bigger, earth is purifying itself, first time a mammal can end the world, we see the earths wobbles every 27,000 years, now, science knows that our weather report was true, make ceremony, do ceremony, do not fear death, celebrate life! Pleaides watching!
C&R: There is no shortage of apocalyptic thinking these days. But what if we could fill that thinking about the future with visions of light instead? There is a Sikh prayer that asks, “what if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” Seeing this darkness as the prelude to a rebirth of sorts, what would the world look like in 50 years if you could imagine and bring that future into being?
TL: Again, another poem:
The stars go dark within the buffalos’ eyes, there many of us, yes, but don’t believe, we’ve ever been introduced, I am, buffalo, the one with the stars in my eyes, the one who cries for the people to live, who runs high in the skies, look and you will see, those stars shining bright, deep within my buffalo eyes, the one who cries for the people to live who runs high in the skies!
C&R: Is there a prayer or poem or a saying that you feel speaks to the current situation and brings comfort or strength or perspective? Could you share it with us? (Click to listen.)