When I was younger, I took a trip on the river from Washburn, North Dakota to the shores of Bismarck near the Memorial Bridge. This is a reflection of that experience.


An eerie calm as I canoed
the wide Missouri drifts
A breeze fed
the odiferous blend
of rotting moss and fish

But suddenly my spirit soared
all nature spoke out loud
I sensed the ones who walked this land
their legends and the sounds

Arikara and Mandan here
the proud Hidatsa too
Hunkpapa tribe and Sitting Bull
of the Lakota Sioux

I heard the Pow Wow celebrate
with drums their beating heart
and felt the dance of culture thru
the windblown trees and clouds

Then I recalled my mom was raised
at Indian training school
assimilating native kids
replete with white man’s rules

I never thought to ask her once
what living there was like
or if she’d known the methods used
to purge their way of life

I thought of Conrad Hairychin
my friend in junior high
presented tough when he was pushed
and not afraid to fight

Yet walking home from
school with him
along Old Highway 10
I saw a different side that seemed
more vulnerable and sad

This native born American
told how his life was spent
In daily living bigotry
I couldn’t comprehend

O that was then and later on
I moved to Tennessee
Whose Andrew Jackson president
had fought at New Orleans

But endless twenty dollar bills
on which his face appears
won’t be enough to pay for lives
lost on his Trail of Tears

I see that all throughout my life
I’ve eased on so secure
but how I need to understand
the pain that some endured

That’s why that river ride I took
was rich and I give thanks
for seeing more of what God sees
along Missouri banks

A poem by Greg Nelson
© 2020 by Poppie’s Hallel (BMI. Admin. by Amplified Administration)


  1. My maternal grandparents grew up on the Oklahoma Cherokee reservation. I remember how my grandfather (my grandmother died before I was born) seemed ashamed of being born and raised there. He hated to talk about it. His name was King Diamon Star (that was the spelling I saw) but he went by “Pete.” More to that story but I feel that loss and love your poem.


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