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Susan Campbell is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She and her husband Eric have three children. When she isn't writing poetry, Susan studies genealogy and the Potawatomi language, and works as a BWAKA volunteer. She is responsible for our genealogy pages.

Update, July 2008: Susan's first book of poetry, a 60-page chapbook, has been published. The book is titled Stained Glass Windows. It is a compilation of mostly American Indian (Potawatomi) poems, with some non-denominational Christian poetry, and includes "Cage Nokmisen" and "She Who Prays...Always."

To order, send a check for $12 (includes postage) to: Susan Campbell, 3200-C Wawae Road, Kalaheo, HI 96741. Or contact her at: nokmis.campbell@gmail.com

Here are three of Susan's poems:

"Cage NokmIsen"
"She Who Prays...Always"




Cage NokmIsen

Between September 3 and November 4, 1838, approximately 859 Potawatomi Indians were removed from their homes at Chief Menominee's village near Twin Lakes, IN and transported under guard to Sugar Creek Mission, Linn County, Kansas. Of these, approximately 40 died along the way; the exact number has been lost to history. Untold others disappeared, going north into Wisconsin and eventually Canada where they settled to begin again. The following poem is dedicated to the memory of my 4th Great-Grandfather Cheshawgen who, with his family, was removed to Kansas on the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

Cage NokmIsen
for my grandmothers

Quiet whispers,
the clicking of beads,
echoed our Spirit prayers
as we knelt at the altar.
Called together by the promise-breakers
we prayed for peace
until rude shouts,
thundering boots
broke the silence.
Before our eyes
the altar was stripped bare
as careless hands
brushed candles and communion plates
into clanging piles on the floor,
wine staining blood-red
the purity of the communion wafer.
Bayonets drawn
the soldiers forced us from our mission church.
With tears in our eyes
we watched it burn.
Allowed only a few moments
to gather together a lifetime
and bid farewell to the Ancestors,
we wept aloud
to see it all go up in flames.
Dejected, defeated, following our chiefs
chained in white prison wagons,
we shouldered our present,
held the hands of our future,
and began the longest walk of our lives--
from the land of our freedom
to the emptiness of our captivity.

And we died.
We ran and we hid--
some escaped north--
but mostly we died.
A few physically--
we laid them gently in the earth,
covering them from intrusion
before hoisting our bundles to move on.
Emotional death kept our feet moving
our minds numb to the shock of removal.
Of our removal.
But the sounds of night--
the mourning for what was
and would never again be.
Muffled sobs, groans.
With swollen eyes we rose each morning
to face a bleak new dawn
and move on.

Sometimes our path
took us through townships.
People came out to stare at us,
curiosity bright in their faces.
Some reflected our sufferings.
Their hands bore food--
warm clothes, blankets--
gestures of concern.
A young child ran after us,
eager to join our strange caravan,
until his worried mother
took him by the hand
and led him home.
Some people jeered us,
calling us "those dirty Redskins."
They threw stones
until ordered to stop.
Then they glared at us, hatred in their eyes.
Others thought to lighten our spirits
by providing us with music,
a music foreign to our ears
for whom the drum, the chant,
and birdsong had been our only chorus.
But we recognized their kindliness
and listened as we ate their bread.

Some days we marched near water.
We could hear it before freeze-time.
In a strange land,
too distant to retrace our steps,
we were allowed to stop--
to enjoy the luxury of bathing.
Clean hair.
Clean clothes. Water for cooking.
Enough to drink.
There were too many dry days.
We didn't see water,
couldn't hear its laughter.
Our stores grew rancid
and sickened us.
We smelled
and were ashamed.

From forests of hardwood
creaking in the wind
we entered treeless plains
where the wind roared at us unmercifully.
The last of summer's heat beat down on us by day unimpeded
while the nights grew increasingly chill.
Fall became winter with keen swiftness that year.
Whom the soldiers hadn't killed,
whom the sickness hadn't struck down,
the cold found a way to strike.
It blew through us unimpaired,
becoming our constant companion.
We all suffered.
But our Elders
our children
theirs was the hardest to bear.
More of us died
and we stopped for burial.
Our eyes ran red from tears,
from sun and cold.
Yet we walked on.

Bereft of our priest
we conducted what ceremonies we could
to mark a passing.
But illness and grief
eventually take their toll
and we were permitted the Black Robe
for our comfort, our survival.
He loved us.
He encouraged us.
When our spirits plummeted
he was able to lift them up.
He guided and directed our worship.
He conducted our ceremonies of passing.
And then he died with us.
"What greater love has a man...?"
We walked on.

And then we were there.
Where, we had no idea,
but the dogs barked,
children ran.
Men and women in black robes,
beads clicking from their belts,
smiles of warmth on their faces, in their eyes,
took our hands in theirs in greeting.
They bade the soldiers to lay down their guns
and to take up hammer and saw.
They led us to food,
to beds in makeshift leantos,
to new opportunity, new life.
While they set about destroying our spirits
and the way of our Ancestors.

In our confusion
we felt relief at journey's end.
In our tiredness
we felt thankfulness at a chance to rest.
In our emptiness and our grief
we felt restored by the compassion in understanding eyes.
In our bodies we stopped to sit awhile.

But somewhere in our deepest selves
where the remembering,
the whispers of our Ancestors,
lay in wait,
we picked up our bundles and walked on.

For more information about the Trail of Death, see our history pages.



She Who Prays...Always

On July 8, 1841, four members of the Sacred Heart order, led by Mother Phillipine Duchesne, came to the Potawatomi living at Sugar Creek, Kansas. Many members of the tribe had been baptized into the Catholic Church before emigrating from Indiana, and had urged the Jesuits to found a mission among them. The Jesuits, in turn, recruited the sisters to educate the girls.

As the sisters' journey to Sugar Creek neared an end, "two Indian messengers arrived to greet them with the tidings that all the tribe was assembled to receive the women of the Great Spirit. ...Groups of horsemen were stationed along the road to show them the way; and suddenly, at the entrance of a prairie, one hundred and fifty warriors on ponies appeared, waving red and white flags above the gay plumes of their head-dresses.... The two resident missionaries...were at the front of the cavalcade, and amid the firing of guns and a display of horsemanship as grand as a review of troops, the little caravan was led up and halted before the mission church....Fr. Verhaegen presented Mother Duchesne: 'My children, here is a lady who for thirty-five years has been asking God to let her come to you.'" *

The sisters opened school on July 19th, with fifty young girls in attendance, while living in a wigwam and learning the Potawatomi language themselves. The following winter was severe; corn and sweet potatoes were the only available food. Mother Duchesne was in her seventies and in poor health when she came to Sugar Creek. The winter left her an invalid. She was recalled from the mission in July, 1842. In the year that she spent with the Potawatomi, she won their hearts; they called her, "the woman who prays always".

Born in France in 1769, Mother Duchesne led the first group of Sacred Heart sisters who came to the United States in 1818. She founded her order's first missions in the United States, the seventh of which was at Sugar Creek. She was deeply religious and an excellent administrator, laying a foundation for the later growth of the Sacred Heart order in the United States. She died in Missouri in 1852 and was canonized (recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church) in 1988.

* Rev. Thomas H. Kinsella. History of Our Cradle Land (Kansas City: Casey Printing Co., 1921) 19.

She Who Prays...Always

Black wool pooled in moonlight
her skirt lay softly on the ground.
Resting her arms on an altar of stone
she fingered a circlet of beads
and quietly prayed.

Dark eyes glowed with curiosity
as small figures separated from bending trees
to drop stones on the fabric lake.

Unmoving she prayed on.

As the sun's rays brushed the tallest leaves
forming shadows of the stones
her prayers were heard.
And were answered.




On September 11, 1992 Hurricane 'Iniki came ashore in the Hawaiian Islands. The islands of Kauai and Niihau bore the brunt of the storm; winds were clocked at 227 mph atop Mt. Waialeale before the wind gauge was broken while the eye of the hurricane passed through the channel separating the two islands. The winds seemed to stop on Kauai, first blowing one direction then reversing their course. For a year afterward Kauai was an island of blue tarps, marking lost roofs, lost homes, lost livelihoods. But an amazing thing happened on Kauai. Immediately after the storm the locals took note of what they had and set out to share with their neighbors. Restaurants set up outdoor kitchens and cooked all they had, giving the food away until it was gone. No one waited for FEMA or for state aid; they took care of one another and made sure no one went without. And together they rebuilt the island. To honor the Aloha spirit of the Kauai people I wrote this poem.

Susan Campbell


It was the silence you noticed first.
The birds ceased their singing
while the very air seemed to draw in on itself.
All was quiet. Hushed. Still.
You sensed it before you felt it--
a delicate whisper
a twinkle of sound
lifting the leaves at your feet,
shifting the sand along the shore
A caressing breeze rising up around you,
soothing you with its soft lullaby.

Puffs of wind began to alert you--
this lullaby brought you awake,
causing bushes to dance
their blossoms swaying to the rhythm.
Puffs grew steady--a mariner's wind
when, sails down, the boats make for harbor.
Laundry and lawn furniture are stowed
for another day.

The whistling began, from a low calm rumble
to a high shriek
that screamed through your bones
that pierced the depths of your soul.
You bowed to it and hid
but it knew your hiding place
and you tumbled across a changing landscape
until you managed to catch and hang on.
You closed your eyes and prayed
but the screaming continued--
you or the wind, it didn't matter
you'd merged into some strange new being.

For a lifetime you waited the wind's demise.

Gradually, almost imperceptively at first,
it seemed a little less determined
as if knowing it had worn out its stay.
It began to slack,
to caress, to calm.
It was still--but this quiet had a difference.
This was a quiet of emptiness
of a land left void
of trees standing tall but limbless
of birds blown to the other side
of people, homes, belongings, pets,
tumbled and mute.

And then the first sounds returned.
A moan.
A moan that became a cry
a cry of the land
a cry of the people
a cumulative wail for what had been
yet now was.
But above this cry was a new sound:
refusal to accept defeat
to bow down
a sound of community rebirthed.



bode'wadmimo speak Potawatomi
nIshnabe'k The People
mzenegenek books
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Home Page: news & updates
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"Cage NokmIsen" copyright © Susan Campbell 1997
"She Who Prays...Always" and "Iniki" copyright © Susan Campbell 1998
Internet presentation and graphics copyright © Smokey McKinney 1998
Kansas Heritage Site.