Frank Pommersheim Symposium — John Petoskey [the elder]

Frank Pommersheim leads an exemplary life as a poet, Buddhist practitioner, federal Indian law practitioner, tribal judge and Indian law scholar with a demonstrated professorial panache as a law school lecturer, not to mention his many presentations at Indian law conferences, law review articles, tribal court opinions and books over the last 45-50 years. He has participated, collected and systematized Indian law in the tradition of Felix Cohen, shedding light and direction on a fractured Indian law history.  Tribal government and Indian law have gone through an enormous change in the last 50 years. Frank, participated in that change with sympathy, empathy and informed advocacy—thinking and guiding the non-Indian and Indian communities through the hard work of seeing each other, and understating each other, across the chasm of a stained history of violence, fear, misunderstanding, and forced accommodation. His scholarly output on developing Indian law and arguments supported Tribes’ and Indians’ assertion of their multiple rights—treaty, tribe, jurisdiction, continued self-determination– to exist in the face of a history of forced Indian trauma, forced land lost, forced cultural destruction, forced loss of children, and so much more; in general, the long curious cruel story of legal conquest in the courts’ and texts’ of the conqueror. Each tribe addresses its unique legal history in the texts of the conqueror, Frank wrote against this tradition of the conquest text, the conqueror’s story of justification.  Frank told part of our story from our perspective, legal narrative and analysis in opposition to the continued domination of legal conquest, writing suggesting the possibilities of being an Indian lawyer in resistance to conqueror’s legal narrative that destroyed tribes and Indian people.

Over many years I have been the grateful recipient of his Buddhist Haiku poems to allay my fears, affirm my hopes, to aspire me to be a better person, and to make me see the present in the acts of everyday life. One of his Haiku poem is the sound of a screen door closing late at night of a teenage child’s return from a night out, stopping his unstated fear, Buddha worrying on nothing but inevitable change.

Frank may go out for the night, and I will wait for that sound of the screen door closing of his return, and if not, Buddha said what is the sound of one screen door closing? Who really retires, anyway?