20 pages 40 minutes read

Joy Harjo

When the World as We Knew It Ended

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2002

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Native American Point of View

Native American individuals were first to live on the continent, yet most American literature does not represent their perspective. As a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Tribe, Harjo gave them and other tribes voice.

“When the World as We Knew It Ended” speaks from the perspective of those who had been colonized. Before the Europeans arrived, the Lenape Tribe inhabited the island now called Manhattan. The word “Manhattan” comes from the Lenape word Mannahatta which means “hilly island.” The Lenape welcomed the strangers, but the Europeans forced the people of the “hilly island” out of their homeland. In the late 1800’s the United States government enacted the “Indian Removal Policy” which forced the Lenape and many others onto reservations in Oklahoma.

This parallels the story of Harjo’s ancestors, the Muscogee or Creek People. Originally the Muscogee lived in the Southeast United States, including territory that is now part of Tennessee. They were also forced to move West on a deadly march known as “The Trail of Tears.” Harjo was born in Oklahoma but returned to her family’s original lands, where her grandfather would have gone to capture horses. Harjo’s family’s story, and their location in Oklahoma, has put her in contact with people from different tribes, allowing her to speak for not just herself or her family, but for Native American individuals more communally.