Here I am attempting to take the voice of a Native American chief. It is apocalyptic in tone – the false sun rising could be an atomic bomb – but then the destruction of the Native American way of life was their slowly-unfolding Armageddon, and a history that I have always found deeply sad and tragic.
The poem was written after meeting and interviewing the Native American activist, Russell Means, who was a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, and helped lead the second battle of Wounded Knee in 1973. He was an early leader of the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s, with the aim of establishing sovereignty for indigenous American tribes. In 2007 he led efforts to create a new nation for the North American Lakota tribe.
In his buckskins and braids, he was an imposing and controversial figure. I can picture him now stood waiting for me to approach him as he entered the newsroom at BBC Radio Manchester. I still have our interview on quarter inch tape.
If you have seen the film The Last of the Mohicans, he was one of the leading actors and appeared in the closing shot. He even made a run for the presidency.
I met Russell Means in the 1980s. It was only in 2017 that I discovered that one of my American ancestors, John Mason, was responsible for almost wiping out an entire Native American tribe (see my Mayflower article in the Life Stories section.) I had no idea at the time that I had American ancestry, nor of the man who helped begin that slow Armageddon.
And for me it was a shocking discovery, because I find Native American culture fascinating. My favourite film is Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner, who also produced and directed it. The film depicts Costner as a Union Army lieutenant and his interaction with a group of Lakota.
Russell Means died from throat cancer at his ranch in South Dakota in 2012.