Poem: Sma’knis by William Basque

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Editor’s note: The poem, Sma’knis, was written by Mi’kmaw veteran William Basque in 1992. Basque, who lived in Eskasoni First Nation, N.S., passed away in 1998. 


I have always kept returning ever since the day I was born
Each time your drum and circle called, my soul was ripped and torn
Forever as I picked up my lance, my quiver and my bow
The eagle soaring me on high would swoop down and drop me low
But it is my duty to fight for my people and for my nation
The test and trials of war are but my sacred tribulations
I am called Sma’knis

In the days of probes and invasions by some other tribes
I fought off our enemies so that peace would come alive
Yet I was most needed later in a time called 1752
My promise to never surrender, Niskam made come true
As my Giganums fought on, never even blinking an eye
We won our peace and friendship but it was me who had to die
I am called Sma’knis

I returned in a generation with the echoes of your drumbeat
To march with George Washington, with my brothers, the Malecite
No retreat – no surrender was our promise at Watertown
We protected America’s freedom, we never let them down
The guarantee of self-government was what we all agreed
But I was killed in action, so our people have the Jay Treaty
I am called Sma’knis

I slept for more generations, well over a hundred years
But came to life to return to war to fight in Germany
I slogged in mud at Verdun where I saw a new kind of war
They called it World War I but World War II was even more
I went through hell in a place called Dieppe to land at Normandy
I was there to liberate Holland but my body was buried at sea
I am called Sma’knis

As the communist world swept over from Europe to the Far East
My reserve back home is what I missed, I hungered for your feast
High on a hill in Korea while freezing in the lonely cold
I sweated in deep desperation for our orders were “to hold”
Although completely surrounded, we held our position’s goal
Staving out human wave attacks but I was killed while on patrol
I am called Sma’knis

While as a youth still in my teens, some said I was a fool
But boot camp at Parris Island was nothing to residential school
I fought in the jungles of Vietnam and kept my Mi’kmaq pride
And brought home my people’s honor through the men I kept alive
I was there at Con-Tien and Khesanh, in the battle of Hue/Phu-Bai
But as I laid fatally wounded, only Niskam heard my cry
I am called Sma’knis

Don’t take your freedom for granted, the Trickster is always at work
He’ll take and keep, not give and share, the circle would die from hurt
I fought for rights and freedom, not just ours but the world’s
And laid down my life for my fellow man, “no greater love” I’m told
Remember me each summer at mission, pow wows and Maine
For Niskam knows if you forget my death, then I have died in vain
I am called Sma’knis


This poem was posted with permission from Rose Basque.


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