Come For My Scalp and Fist

I’ve made myself a cannon ball. When I walk through the campus parking lot I hold my key in my fist the right way—the way my brother taught me. Triggered doesn’t mean a turn to frailty and stillness, sometimes it means you’re ready to fight again, harder, with every ounce this time—not like last time. In that sense, I would say watch out for me.

You tell me Indians are drunks and you tell me we don’t stop making babies. I wish you could turn inward. I don’t feel any compulsion to sterilize myself or stop drinking to defy a stigma. I’d rather you turn inward and look at your own lineages, your own histories.

Your presidents collected scalps, made Cherokee death march away from their homes, inspired Hitler, and your Declaration of Independence calls me a merciless Indian savage. A man cut us open, removed our babies, and left us to die. Men sterilized us.

If these men are not your people, if you renounce them publicly, then this is not for you.

There’s always rhetoric to cover the hate, to pass it as conviction, morality, decency, even unity. I think you fail to see how it affects Indian women directly; that we have to hold our keys like knives with fists so tight they are red.

We are cannonballs with scalped spirits looming—impugning us to never forget. I think about my mother, coming home from the group home. She treated her hair for lice and it became coarse, electric but sparse. With wet hair she fell asleep on the couch, a book on her chest.

Maybe you want my scalp and the land, the way your ancestors did. If not literally, you will work us harder and exhaust our power until we die tired of injustice, like my mother and hers.

I see it now with mold in our walls and bruises, and the missing women who were pulled off the highway. I saw it when I reported the crimes against me. I see it now in the classroom, when I ask a certain boy to read James Baldwin. I see the grimacing face of entitlement in the clothes of disparity.

The rhetoric of ‘We’re all Immigrants’ erases me and fails to recognize some of your lineage is directly linked to colonizers and people who benefitted from the exploitation of people of color, slavery, and stolen land. Native Americans certainly aren’t immigrants, although in our history we have been removed from our land, relocated to foreign spaces without resources, labeled as terrorists, and banned from cities.

I’d rather you try and take my scalp. It feels like sick foreplay to hold onto my life this long in fear and anger. It’s going to be taken by a man or exhaustion or when I can’t speak anymore.

I can give you my fist. You can see anger and fear this way, better than my words. We are always taken to task, argued with, and faced with disbelief. There’s more worth in my closed first.

When men took my body before, when the courts took my body before—I flinched. I wasn’t ready to fight. I see it is an Indian thing to lose this way.

Did you ever think you were the terrorist?

The way my people are, we wouldn’t ban you from our land. Everyone deserves a home and food where I’m from. But the women, they’re born with a club and a weir and we ask the world, “Which do you prefer?” I’ve taken up the club.

This isn’t a plight of the Indians piece that cries out for acknowledgment. I just omitted my fist from this discourse for so long, that I think you’ve forgotten none of us will allow erasure. We’ve hidden languages and practices when they were banned—and that’s how I’m here. We have lived in this movement longer than anyone in North America. We saved white saviors and we saved you, too.

No white feminists saved us, no politicians, just us alone. You should align yourselves with our movement. Acknowledge the dirt your country does, the things you’re complicit about, the things that aren’t easy to reconcile with. I don’t empathize with your discomfort when our bodies have been here, on the line, aware of it each day. How many of you are tempted, when you run your fingers through my hair, to pull, just once, for old times?


Terese is a Saturday Editor at The Rumpus and a columnist for Indian Country Today. She has been published at The Offing, The Toast, Feminist Wire, and elsewhere.

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