I saw two hawks today. They came to me, presenting themselves long enough to be seen and then flying west. Always, for me, they fly west. Cetan Oyate, we call them. Hawk Nation. They are my protectors, my reminders, my messengers, my comforters. It’s been a long time; so long that I thought maybe they had lost faith in me.
As an Indian, a Native American, an Indigenous person, wherever I go, I am a tourist attraction. They gawk and stare and pester. Often I am a novelty, a token, an anthropology project.
The string of questions is relentless and predictable. What kind? How much? What do you think about mascots? Are you allowed to drink? Don’t you get free college? Free healthcare? Why do you have student loans? Do you pay taxes? Is there weed in the peace pipe? Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What is a sun dance? What’s your Indian name? What’s your spirit animal? Can I touch your hair? Why don’t you have braids?
And then there are statements, sentences with periods at the end instead of question marks. You can’t be full Indian because you have freckles. You’re the prettiest Native girl I’ve ever seen. I have Indian friends and you don’t look like them. You’re not biracial because your skin is light. Calling them “Indian” is offensive. I’m fascinated with Indian culture. I speak a useless language too. The mythology of your people is amazing. You remind me of the girl in Dances With Wolves. My grandmother was a Cherokee princess. Don’t get so offended, you’re being too sensitive. You need to get over it. I didn’t do it.
Exhaustion is an understatement. I am impatient, constantly running. I am loud, fickle and barefoot. When I was younger I was even angrier, I would fight a lot, in my own way. There are two things that make me Sioux, that make me so Lakhota that no one can argue blood quantum: my memory and my temper. I remember everything. Every face, every name, every dimple. And I will fight instantly, hard, and ruthlessly. I will fight dirty. I am loyal to a fault.
My very existence is a revolution. I am a genocide survivor. My héktakiya wičhóuŋčhaǧe, my ancestors, they fled the reservations to save their children from the Catholic boarding schools that would lock them up for weeks in a room the size of a refrigerator box, no windows, with only bread and water once a day. Those Catholic schools made them cut their hair, beat them for speaking our language, raped them for being savages, prevented them from seeing their families for years on end.
Before being locked up in boarding schools or reservations, they were hunted. 300, unarmed, slaughtered in one night, buried in a mass grave that is only marked now by a chicken wire fence and a border of cement.
Body parts were strewn everywhere. Brains and blood mixing together in the snow. The white soldiers adorned themselves with fingers, toes, scalps and genitals. They cut babies out of their mothers and tossed them in the air, using them as target practice. For this, they were given medals of honor.
There is only one generation between me and elders who remembered that night, remembered hearing screaming and the sound of gunfire on the wind.
Now you can buy postcards picturing my ancestors’ frozen, mutilated bodies lying in the snow, or white soldiers tossing dead Indian babies into that mass grave at Wounded Knee.
So I will not sit down, I will not be told that I am being too sensitive. I will not get over it. Because still, the only good Indian is a dead Indian, a quiet Indian. My language, my ceremony, my land, my dance is prayer. I will not stop speaking, I will not stop dancing. I will not stop praying. This fight is not over, all of history has not been written.
Bliheiciiya po, Oceti Sakowin. Mitakuye oyasin. Chanke he wowicala bluha yelo.