Buried Poem Quilt, Part 1

In early 2021, I started an Audible version of the Spirit of Healing by Lewis Mehl-Madrona. This book is a collection of Stories, Wisdom, and Practices from Native America with meditation led by Dr. Mehl-Madrona. Audible notes that this physician and lifelong student of Native American spirituality invites you to discover healing practices informed by both modern medical and psychiatric knowledge, and the “narrative medicine” of traditional healers.” During one of the meditations, I envisioned a white buffalo which I felt led to paint. The White Buffalo is a powerful symbol of hope and healing. For many Native Americans, the appearance of a white buffalo is a sign that their prayers have been heard and that help is on the way. 1 I finished Spirit of Healing and repeated the meditations many times.

White Buffalo by Renee Atkinson currently in the collection of Paul Emery

A few months later, in the Spring of 2021, I read an article about 751 First Nations children found buried in unmarked graves at an “Indian School” in Canada. I was so moved that I wrote a poem in August 2021, Buried, so titled to indicate the truth buried for so long. My conscience was bothered that not much was said about it in the U.S. news media which brewed an idea for an honor quilt for the children who never came home. The quilt squares would represent a verse or verses of the poem.

The design took hours of research as the last thing I wanted to do was misrepresent the children and their culture. First, I read more about the tribes in the Pacific Northwest where the school in the article was located. The research expanded to review the number of Indian schools in North America and what entity ran those schools. I discovered that the majority of schools were ran by religious organizations and were mainly Catholic institutions. The live-in schools were poorly run, rife with disease and abuse. North American children were taken from many tribes starting from the late 1800s until after the 1970s. The children’s tribal clothing and braids were disposed, the children were forbidden to speak their language and there was no contact allowed with their family or tribe.

Verse 1 Block: The Mothers were wailing at the wind. This block was a simple design of batiks gathered from my batik collection. My friends know that batiks are one of my favorite fabrics to use. The quilting for this block followed the line of the cloak the mother wore. Embroidery helped define the batik used for the wind. I wanted to show that there were no resources the families could go to raise concerns over the children taken so the parents went to nature to raise their concerns. Tribal connections to the natural world are evident in the iconic art throughout the centuries.

Verse 2 is the fathers were pacing in the forest block.

Initial block for the fathers were pacing in the forest
Block with shadowing added
Final pacing in the forest block incorporated into quilt.

Verse 3 of the Buried poem Quilt: Small footprints were washed away in the rain. This quilt square eventually evolved after three iterations.

First design of Verse 3 block: Small footprints washed away in the rain
2nd design option of the footprints block
Final design of the footprints block

Verse 4 and 5 are

The tiny voices roiled by sediment

The hands speak of several unmarked mass graves where more than one child was buried. This also symbolically speaks to my assumption that the children cared and watched over each other despite the attempts to separate them from their culture, their family, their tribe. The sun symbol seen on one hand is an icon for healing and hope.

The poem speaks how the coyote, hawk eagle and bear worked together to lead the First Nations to the children buried where the two rivers meet. The block is not as pink as it seems, more of a creamy orange.

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