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Some of the Best Native American Poems, Proverbs and Sayings

These are my modern English translations of some of my favorite Native American poems and proverbs. I translated the first three poems when my father, Paul Ray Burch Jr., made the decision to stop taking dialysis and enter hospice. He had a strong dose of Native American blood―Cherokee, we believe. Native Americans were creating poems and songs in pre-Columbian days; Mayan and Aztec literature dates back to the first millennium BCE. 

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing I
translation by Michael R. Burch

I will extract the thorns from your feet.
For a little while, we will walk life's sunlit paths together.
I will love you like my own brother, my own blood.
When you are disconsolate, I will wipe the tears from your eyes.
And when you are too sad to live, I will put your aching heart to rest.

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing II
translation by Michael R. Burch

Happily may you walk
in the paths of the Rainbow.
               Oh!,
and may it always be beautiful before you,
beautiful behind you,
beautiful below you,
beautiful above you,
and beautiful all around you
where in Perfection beauty is finished.

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing III
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May Heaven’s warming winds blow gently there,
where you reside,
and may the Great Spirit bless all those you care for,
this side of the farther tide.
And when you go,
whether the journey is fast or slow,
may your moccasins leave many cunning footprints in the snow.
And when you look over your shoulder, may you always find the Rainbow.

Sioux Vision Quest

A man must pursue his Vision
as the eagle explores
the sky's deepest blues.
Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota Sioux (circa 1840-1877), translated by Michael R. Burch

Cherokee Proverb
translation by Michael R. Burch

Before you judge
a man,
be sure to trudge
at least two moons
in his moccasins.

The Receiving of the Flower

Let us sing overflowing with joy
as we observe the Receiving of the Flower.
The lovely maidens beam;
their hearts leap in their breasts.
Why?
Because they will soon yield their virginity to the men they love!
—excerpt from a Mayan love poem, translated by Michael R. Burch

Deflowering

Remove your clothes;
let down your hair;
become as naked as the day you were born
virgins!
—excerpt from a Mayan love poem, translated by Michael R. Burch

Native American Proverbs
loose translations by Michael R. Burch

The soul would see no Rainbows if not for the eyes’ tears.

A woman’s highest calling is to help her man unite with the Source.
A man’s highest calling is to help his woman walk the earth unharmed.

A brave man dies but once, a coward many times.

Don't judge a man unless you've walked many moons in his moccasins.

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.White Elk

Earthbound
an original poem by Michael R. Burch

Tashunka Witko, better known as Crazy Horse, had a vision of a red-tailed hawk at Sylvan Lake, South Dakota. In his vision he saw himself riding a spirit horse, flying through a storm, as the hawk flew above him, shrieking. When he awoke, a red-tailed hawk was perched near his horse.

Earthbound,
and yet I now fly
through the clouds that are aimlessly drifting ...
so high
that no sound
echoing by
below where the mountains are lifting
the sky
can be heard.

Like a bird,
but not meek,
like a hawk from a distance regarding its prey,
I will shriek,
not a word,
but a screech,
and my terrible clamor will turn them to clay—
the sheep,
the earthbound.


If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace ... Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it ... Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.Heinmot Tooyalaket (Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader

When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
Cree Prophecy

Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other,
thus should we do,
for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.
Black Elk

Hold on to what is good,
even if it is a handful of dirt.
Hold on to what you believe,
even if it is a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life,
even if it is easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
even if I have gone away from you.
Pueblo Blessing

When you arise in the morning,
give thanks for the morning light,
for your life and strength.
Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. 
If you see no reason for giving thanks,
the fault lies in yourself.
Tecumseh

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.

And my heart soars.
Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh (1899-1981)

May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.
Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh (1899-1981)

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
Chief Seattle, 1854

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