The Work That Must Be Done
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The Work That Must Be Done

Although I can clearly recall the first day I met Simon, the memory of that afternoon doesn't quite fit my sense of reasonable time, because in many ways his words have guided me for much longer. I was twenty when I first read Woven Stone, at a time when I was shuffling off the heavy shame I felt as a mixed-blood Cherokee hillbilly from a poor mountain town, and Simon's deep love of land, language, and his Acoma Pueblo community—the substantive concerns of all his work—found a healing home in my spirit. It was a while before I read more of his work, as my focus quickly moved from literature by American Indians in general to Cherokee literature in particular, but each time I returned to Simon's poems, essays, and stories, I listened to new rhythms in his words, and new dimensions to the driving purpose of his writer's voice.

Thus it was with no small bit of apprehension that I prepared to meet him for lunch on my first day as an Aboriginal literatures job candidate at the University of Toronto, where Simon was in his first year as a visiting professor in the English Department. After all, it's one thing to be inspired by a writer's work, but quite another thing to risk watching that inspiration vanish if the writer turns out to be something less than generous.

I needn't have worried, because Simon was just as I hoped he'd be: kind, thoughtful, and certain in his dedication to the dignified continuity of indigenous peoples. Although I was still a graduate student at the University of Nebraska and felt rather overwhelmed by the rush and bustle of Toronto and the Anglophilic splendor of U of T, [End Page 93] Simon put me at ease during our conversation. He'd read some of my writing and shared his thoughts on it and made clear to me that there was a lot of work to be done in Toronto for whomever was hired for the position. It was my first personal meeting with Simon, and a memorable one, for he provided encouraging support coupled with high expectations.

I was fortunate enough to be the chosen candidate for the job, and in the two years since, I've had many opportunities to work with Simon on a number of projects dedicated to increasing the presence, access, and visibility of indigenous people at the University of Toronto. Rather than focus exclusively on U of T or even on Toronto, Simon's attention starts with the local but also encompasses hemispheric and international indigenous concerns. He's given U of T a stronger name in indigenous studies and provided time, energy, and money to developing or enhancing projects like the Indigenous Literary Reading Series and the Aboriginal Studies Distinguished Lecture Series, which bring renowned native scholars, artists, and political leaders to share their knowledge with the city and university communities; an ambitious, interdisciplinary indigenous studies journal; and the development of a critical reference project on the literatures of indigenous North America.

Simon's work and life are embedded in the teachings of the ancestors, the traditions and spirits of the land and the people. He has noted that "we are living today only because the generations before us—our ancestors—provided for us by the manner of their responsible living," and this ethic of respect and humility characterizes everything he does.1 He is an energetic mentor to young native writers and scholars across North America, leading us toward good creative and economic opportunities and reminding us by his example that our work is not just for ourselves, but for all our people today and in the days to come. Never content to just stay put and speak from the security of the Ivory Tower, he travels across the world to speak about the continuing indigenous struggle for justice and provides his poetic voice as a powerful healing tool in that struggle.

As a professional writer and an indigenous professor, Simon is one of a small but growing group of native scholars...


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