Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Beverly Slapin reviews SMUGGLING CHEROKEE by Kim Shuck

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin's review of Smuggling Cherokee may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2015. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.


Shuck, Kim (Tsalagi, Sauk/Fox, Polish), Smuggling Cherokee. Greenfield Review Press, 2005; grades 7-up

Smuggling Cherokee is full of powerful insight: part autobiography, part musing, part outrageous wit, and part punch-in-the-gut startling. Kim Shuck is a visionary: she knows who she is, what she comes from, and what she’s been given to do. Her poems are honest and passionate, and, without polemic, will shatter just about every stereotype about Indians that anyone has ever espoused: 

The man asks me, 
“Do you speak Cherokee?”
But it’s all I ever speak
The end goal of several generations of a
smuggling project.
We’ve slipped the barriers,
Evaded border guards.
I smile,

Some of Kim’s poems are tenderly, achingly beautiful: 

The water I used to drink spent time
Inside a pitched basket
It adopted the internal shape
Took on the taste of pine
And changed me forever. 

And for those who didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, the many faces of depredation:

I call the slave master
Who lost track of my ancestor
A blanket for you
In gratitude.

I call the soldier
With a tired arm
Who didn’t cut deeply enough
Into my great-great grandfather’s chest to kill clean.
I return your axehead
Oiled and sharpened
Wield it against others with equal skill.

Will the boarding school officer come up?
The one who didn’t take my Gram
Because of her crippled leg.
No use as a servant – such a shame with that face…

Finally the shopkeeper’s wife
Who traded spoiled cans of fruit
For baskets that took a year each to make.
Thank you, Faith, for not poisoning
Quite all
Of my

Blankets for each of you,
And let no one say
That I am not
Grateful for your care.

Smuggling Cherokee, as with all of Kim Shuck’s poems, will resonate with Indian middle and high school readers. Students who are not Indian may not “get” some of them the first time around, but they will, eventually, if given the space to sit with them.

Kim Shuck—a poet, teacher, fine artist and parent of at least three—teaches college courses in Native Short Literature, creates phenomenal beadwork and basketry, curates museum collections, teaches origami to young children as an introduction to geometry, grows vegetables, converses with trees, takes long walks, and meditates while doing piles of laundry. She won the Native Writers of the Americas First Book Award for Smuggling Cherokee, as well as the Diane Decorah Award for Poetry, she has a fierce and gentle heart, and I’m honored to call her “friend.”

—Beverly Slapin

(Note: Smuggling Cherokee can be ordered from kshuck@tsoft.net. Discount for class sets, free shipping.)

Eds. note: Kim Shuck wrote to say that she is an enrolled with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beverly has been writing spot on reviews of Indigenous books for decades and she didn't get this wrong at all.
Personally I love Kim's works and have been very pleased to be able to read
my own poor work in a venue with her in San Francisco once upon a time.
If you are expecting a gingerbread cookie cutter stereotypical Indian - look elsewhere - because real human beings are far more complicated and wonderful than any stereotype - and Kim is a real human being who has walked the walk as well as being able to truly express it in the talk.

Buy this book, you won't be disappointed. John D. Berry, American Indian Studies Librarian, UC Berkeley, (retired)