Chrystos is a poet, artist, activist born is San Fransisco, California November 7, 1946. She is of mixed origin: her mother was Lithuanian/Alsatian, her father of Menominee ancestry. She identifies with her fathers heritage and refers to herself as an urban Indian.
The political aspect is dominant in her writing. Native land rights & treaty rights, racism towards Native peoples, are but one subject she writes about; also domestic violence – she writes about her mother’s depressions and the abuse she herself suffered as a child by her mother. Abuse being one of the reasons to reject this part of her being. So she readily identifies with all victims of violence and lends them her voice.
Not Vanishing from 1988 is her first and very confrontational collection. In later work she has matured as a poet.
As an outed lesbian, she writes also very beautiful and moving love and erotic poems.
In the summer of 2002 she was making a film about two spirited women ‘in order to make the lives of queer native peoples more visible’.
Two spirited women is the general Native American word, two hearts is also used although that leads to confusion in some nations where that term is deserved for the evil form of witchcraft.
The attitude among native peoples is less intrusive. To be intrusive is impolite, so you don’t ask invasive questions. Of course native cultures are very diverse, just as diverse as the variety of European cultures is. So although native peoples might keep a low profile about their personal lives there are drag queens as outrageous as the white ones.
From all the minorities in the USA the native peoples are most oppressed. A strong poetic voice like Chrystos is essential in those circumstances.
Many of her poems are autobiographical, fiercely personal; some might call it testimonial. Her writing is however always strong and inclusive of all who have gone through the same suffering.
Remember the saying: we are all wounded at Wounded Knee? The first poem from Not vanishing refers to this.
In the scars of my knees you can see
children torn from their families
bludgeoned into government schools
You can see through the pins in my bones
That we are prisoners of a long war
My knee is so badly wounded no one will look at it
The pus of past oozes from every pore
This infection has gone on for at least 300 years
Our sacred beliefs have been made into pencils
names of cities gas stations
My knee is wounded so badly that I limp constantly
Anger is my crutch I hold myself upright with it
My knee is wounded
How I Am Still Walking