Trace DeMeyer, who lives in western Massachusetts, has been an important figure in the regional Native literary scene. In the late 90s and early 2000s she was an editor at The Pequot Times, the excellent paper published out of Mashantucket. She still freelances for News from Indian Country, keeps several blogs of her own (linked throughout this post), and Tweets Native news at ModernNdn. With all of her media savvy and vast network of connections, DeMeyer recently started Blue Hand Books, a new e-publishing collective well-positioned to support established and upcoming Native authors, who are often frustrated by more entrenched publishing houses.
Hot off Blue Hand's e-presses is her own poetry chapbook, Sleeps with Knives (just over $5 at amazon). Writing under the pen name Laramie Harlow, DeMeyer revisits and expands some of the traumatic personal history she explored in One Small Sacrifice, her painful memoir of growing up as an Indian adoptee. As in the memoir, she recounts unspeakable abuse ("When I got to the house,/ dad said 'the whore is home.'") as well as resilience. The poem "willow" concludes:
Now, as I choose,
I am safe within my own walls,
alive in my body, strong as a willow,
as wild, as free.
Sleeps with Knives is also a book about Indian travel, about the determination to connect with place and people even when geographic dislocation is forced or undesired. There are "tales of wisconsin" that root her childhood home among "Anishinaabe friends/ and their sacred songs." There are song lyrics written in 1980 for her band, Sardaukar, in Washington State. And there are many poems about flight. One in particular seems to sum up DeMeyer's unique ability to capture both movement and community. The "Swallow Manifesto" declares, "We do not recognize laws, divisions, fences, borders, countries, counties, states, presidents, governors, police, park rangers, scientists, paramilitary or queens. . . ." It finishes by issuing "Your orders: Migrate. Fly."
In this sense, DeMeyer shares quite a bit with writers like Alice Azure (Mi'kmaq), who describe some all-too-common Native experiences of rupture, dislocation, and re-connection. Most of the writers I cover in this blog belong to tribal nations indigenous to New England; and many of them celebrate centuries-old connections to their homelands. But DeMeyer was out-adopted; she identifies as Tsalgi (Cherokee)/Shawnee/Euro and is not, at present, living in Cherokee or Shawnee territory. And yet she demonstrates an utterly fierce commitment to identifying and building community across tribal, ethnic, and geographic lines, while giving voice to so many indigenous people who have experienced healing as well as trauma in diaspora. That is experience is every bit as much a part of Native life in New England (and elsewhere) as are stories about ancestral homelands, baskets, waterways, and the other varied themes explored by the writers named in this blog.
Update Nov. 1, 2016: Blue Hand Books is now the Blue Hand Books Collective. Visit their new site.