Not Your TV Indian

Cansasa Wakan, Keep Tobacco Sacred by Marissa Irizarry of the Institute of American Indian Arts
Cansasa Wakan, Keep Tobacco Sacred by Marissa Irizarry of the Institute of American Indian Arts

Why are we the only ones who have to prove we exist?

So many of us equate our Indianness with our blood quantum

Our self-worth hanging on the edge of that number

Like show horses or breeding dogs

An imaginary percentage stamped on us by BIA agents

Prove it on paper, they said

And yet, my carrying a card

Still slicks the back of your throat with colonial bile

I am just a statistic to you

One in three native women are rape survivors

Entire generations of “there is no father”

Single moms on commodities

Raising little girls that bite back and aren’t afraid to say no

You are still trying to solve the Indian Problem

But the problem is you

White is not your lack of tan

It’s that “Doctrine of Discovery” attitude

Your “Manifest Destiny” smile

That “Sexy Indian Princess” costume you wear to trashy Halloween parties

Andrew Jackson would approve, I’m sure

A coworker once said to me

(one of those descendants of that phantom Cherokee princess)

That she would dig up the Indian mound on her property

So that she could sell the contents

I wanted to vomit all over her stupid pantsuit

Disgusting, this decay of morality

No native I know

Would ever joke about digging up their relatives

That is inhuman

In Mvskoke we call that a Honkv


What you mistake for “reverse racism”

Is a mourning song for centuries of mistreatment

It is historical trauma reincarnated as words

Dripping with the blood of our ancestors

It is the missing and murdered women

Their cries linger in the wind

It is my friends and I swapping our abuse stories

Like sacks of rotting deer meat

My DNA carries the scars of a people

I see their nightmares in my sleep

The soles of my feet are flayed open

With the shattered glass of over 500 broken treaties

Seven generations of attempting to heal

Has birthed Bear People like me

Even with proof on paper

Family trees going back centuries

You continue to deny that I exist

Because you don’t want me like this

You want me stoic, feathered, riding on horseback

You want me submissive, buckskinned, tipied, powwowed,

You want me painted, whooping, buffalo hunting, bow and arrowed

Not angry, protesting, court case referencing, shooting your language back at you

Not educated, well spoken, “civilized”

Dressed in your clothes, eating your food, worshiping your God

I am not the Indian you watched on TV

Being shot down by John Wayne

Exorcising houses of poltergeists

Leading white kids on vision quests

No, I am real

Really angry

You should have expected this

After all, you made me this way

Not white enough to enjoy your privilege or your protection

Not Indian enough to live up to your fantasies and fetishes

Our culture is our identity

Not some imaginary number or the color of our skin

The ancestors that whisper to us on clear nights

They live on in us

No outsider can tell us who or what we are

Put that on your census cards

Resilience runs in our blood

Like a mountain stream slicing through granite

Patient, persistent

We are still here

And we aren’t going anywhere

Miranda Lauren Sanders is a student at College of the Muscogee Nation.

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