MAPLE CITY — We are literate, intelligent and sophisticated. We are conservationists, scientists and mathematicians. We always have been and always will be.
That’s the message Lois Beardslee said she hopes to convey with her fifth book, “Words Like Thunder: New and Used Anishinaabe Prayers.”
“I’m not interested in pointing fingers and saying, ‘You people didn’t recognize that about us,’” said Beardslee. “I’m interested in saying, ‘This is who we are, this is who we’ve always been and we’re not going to stop.’”
Beardslee, a Maple City resident, is Anishinaabe, but is not part of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Beardslee said she’s from Like Superior Ojibwe.
Anishinaabek translates to “the original people” and also refers to the three tribes in the Great Lakes Basin: Odawa (Ottawa), Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Bodewadmi (Potawatomi). The tribes also are referred to as The Three Fires.
“Words Like Thunder” is a compilation of 37 poems and proses, published by Wayne State University Press. It was scheduled to be released next month, but came out early because of the coronavirus pandemic, Beardslee said.
It’s her first book in 12 years, but she has contributed to several anthologies and literary journals in the interim, Beardslee said. Her past work has won awards for writing and civil rights, including Foreword INDIES and IPPY — Independent Publisher Book Awards — bronze medals.
Native American stories in general are flexible, approached differently by each teller, she said. More importantly, they’re functional, Beardslee said.
There are two major types of stories about drowning, for example, she said. There are the gruesome stories that are preventative and aimed at trying to keep young people from making mistakes and bad choices — and then there are the beautiful ones meant to help the survivors cope, Beardslee said.
Some of the contents of “Words Like Thunder” were written years ago, she said. The poem, “on Oral Histories about president Number Sixteen,” was written about 15 years ago, Beardslee said.
The poem talks about how President Abraham Lincoln is considered an American hero, celebrated on a national holiday and memorialized in various other ways — his face on U.S. currency and stamps, for example.
Beardslee intertwines those points with another side of the story, recalling the execution of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minn., on Dec. 26, 1862. It took place on Lincoln’s orders following the U.S.-Dakota War.
“I’ve had to wait until the market was ready for me to publish it,” Beardslee said. “That’s very, very common for my work.
“The market isn’t controlled by people of color, so I have to be patient and cautious,” she said.
Beardslee said she was far more cautious about addressing racism in northwest Lower Michigan earlier in her writing career, but became more aggressive as she became more successful.
“Words Like Thunder” is written for both Native American and non-Native audiences and, to some degree, she tip-toes and uses metaphors to address racism and socioeconomic inequality, Beardslee said.
“I’ve had to wait until the market was ready for me to
publish it. That’s very, very common for my work.” Lois Beardslee