Chloe Dragon Smith
On the Land
The roots beneath our languages—
Twisting and turning, gnarly, knowing.
On the Land
The truths that shaped our words
Long before they were spoken.
Language is more than words and
Words hold more than any language
Could ever explain.
Simple rhythmic sound waves from
Throat vibrations transferred to consciousness;
Words are the brief physical manifestation
That is only a tiny bit physical.
Words are portals.
That’s why it feels so good to learn them…
Our languages come from deep
Within the souls and unconditional loving of our ancestors—
Human and otherwise.
To do soul learning
You must meet on soul terms.
So, you say you want fluency?
Let us meet our languages.
Let us feel our languages.
Let us love our languages.
Give us a fighting chance to get to know one another,
Before you send someone to instruct them to us.
About the Poem
For me, living as an Indigenous person in Canada today is a constant act of rebellion. Most of the time, it is an under-the-surface, achy kind of rebellion that tweaks and pinches in everyday situations. While it can present in racist comments and ignorant assumptions, these obvious manifestations of the ache have a deeper underpinning. Our society is out of balance. Peace and friendship treaties established in good faith upon the arrival of settlers to these Lands maintained that Indigenous society and Western society would coexist respectfully, learning from each other and sharing strengths, but not impeding each other. Today, mainstream institutions in Canada are overwhelmingly Euro-Western. This poem is an exploration of the daily strength and resilience needed to exist as an Indigenous person in an imposed Western system.
Living as an Indigenous person in Canada today is a constant act of rebellion
What this looks like is consciously choosing every single day to live life by my own values. We all live in a societal structure that is imported from Europe, that doesn’t come from our Lands, and doesn’t fit who we are. That means every moment becomes a rebellion to maintain our own identities. I feel it every day.
This poem speaks to one small example: What does language mean? What are the values behind it that make it important to us and worth preserving?
In my Indigenous worldview, language comes from Land and is tied to it. The birds taught us, the moose taught us, the rivers taught us, the wind taught us. They continue to, because language is not static. When it is healthy, it is dynamic and thriving. Learning our languages must come from a place of connection and love. That is what they’re about.
Chloe Dragon Smith is a young Métis woman born and raised in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Of Dënesųłiné, French, and German heritage, she grew up close to her Indigenous cultural values and learned traditional skills for living on the land. Her mother is Brenda Dragon, her father is Leonard Smith, and her Grandmother is Jane Dragon.