How I Came to Have a Man’s Name

Poem for a Tuesday — “How I Came to Have a Man’s Name”

by Emma Lee Warrior

“Before a January dawn, under a moondog sky,
Yellow Dust hitched up a team to a straw-filled sleigh.
Snow squeaked against the runners
in reply to the crisp crackling cottonwoods.
They bundled up bravely in buffalo robes,
their figures pronounced by the white of night;
the still distance of the Wolf Trail [Milky Way] greeted them,
and Ipisowahs, the boy child of Natosi [the sun],
and Kokomiikiisom [the moon], watched their hurry.
My momma’s body was bent with pain.
Otohkostskaksin [Yellow Dust] sensed the Morning Star’s
presence so he beseeched him:

‘Aayo, Ipisowahs, you see us now,
pitiful creatures.
We are thankful there is no wind.
We are thankful for your light.
Guide us safely to our destination.
May my daughter give birth in a warm place.
May her baby be a boy; may he have your name.
May he be fortunate because of your name.
May he live long and be happy.
Bestow your name upon him, Ipisowahs.
His name will be Ipisowahs.
Aayo, help us, we are pitiful.’

And Ipisowahs led them that icy night
through the Old Man River Valley
and out onto the frozen prairie.
They made it to the hospital
where my mother pushed me into the world
and nobody bothered to change my name.”

in Reinventing the Enemy’s Language, ed. Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird. W.W. Norton: New York, 1997, p.73.

Emma Lee Warrior is Blackfoot. She was born in Brocket, Alberta and raised on the Peigan Reserve. Her grandparents were keepers of the Blackfoot traditions and language. Warrior remembers, “The main thing I learned from them was to be good to people and animals and to look forward to summer. Animals are our relations. People, animals, and nature were given to us by the Giver of Life.” She survived ten years at a residential boarding school.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on

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