indige•zine 'issue #2: healing'

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issue #2

march 2017

letter from the editor

indige•zine #2: healing a letter from issue the editor welcome toanindigezine issue #2: ‘healing’ Healing isn’t easy, linear process. Healing hurts. Healing takes time. As indigenous peoples, we’re born into communities still reeling from the wake of genocide -- the loss of loved ones to death or substance abuse, the suppression of ceremony and language, the brutal marginalization of our existence. Our bodies and minds are drenched in a wave of generational grief that must be recognized and reconciled. But it’s a hard journey to start. I began my healing process with words. Expressing the confusion and heartache I felt as a child came easiest through writing. Today, I heal from my trauma with introspection, intimate conversation, self-care and self-forgiveness because relapse and regression are only human. Outside of myself, I see a collective healing taking place across Indian Country. Healing is taking care of your body. Healing is pursuing higher education. Healing is the #NoDAPL battle against environmental terrorism. Healing is Making America Native Again. I am beyond grateful to share with you the inspiring work of my indigenous friends, family, and peers. I know for a fact that I would have never gotten through this life without the resilience, talent, and love that indigenous expression has shown is possible. I invite you to turn these pages and see for yourself the range of reclamation, recovery, and healing we are capable of. Shonabish (Thank You), Braudie Blais-Billie

contents 5





Filleting the Black Snake, Acts I & II

Sarah Stern Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King)

Moira J.






Frank Waln

11-12 Forgive Me Braudie Blais-Billie

This Question of Healing, This Question of Sovereignty Sterling HolyWhiteMountain 13-18




Spring Equinox Installation – Medicine Wheel





Tia Blais-Billie Tomahawk Greyeyes

Tomahawk Greyeyes

Fuck Donald Trump/Make America Native Again Braudie Blais-Billie




Checking the Box



Braudie Blais-Billie

Diyรกni Brown


Untitled Sarah Stern

I want to be as strong as this tree to live through years of injustice Growing taller stronger and stretching my limbs toward the sun A reminder that a new day is coming and I will be strong And that one day it will be better We will be stronger We will be resilient



Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King)

30x40 inches Mixed Media on Canvas



Black snake has its nose upturned; crude and offering riddles in tar, it sinks ankles and tears away fleshbones, birds with blackened wings descend. Nothing here can breathe, the snake strangles cattails and fox sedge until they lay like barren tongues. I have not drunk in seven days, it is an unconsenting purge, my lungs are pulpous—pinky peppercorns of meat erupting like alveoli cysts; an urgent cough. There is a blanket covering the mouths of tributaries, it is knotted like restless children and the fish scream in night terror, their eyes fuzzed over with cottony black. A muskrat eats clover turned oil rig, I cannot rescue its flailing fur, my hands are buried in nests of slick eggs. In order to prevent more snakes, I smash the heads of its babies, they pop like hot tar on boots, I must protect the ghosts of giant earth worms, whose homes are carved out into stone with their ripples turned white.


FILLETING THE BLACK SNAKE, ACT TWO To kill the black snake, I must slice each scale off with a knife blessed by ancestors, it must be wrapped in ceremony and unsettling rosy sunsets contrasted against contemporary war zones. The lungs of the snake are the hardest to remove, with fluid pocketed in each part that is dark—wet asphalt that reeks of maggot gut and molted skin, I am cautious to not erupt the organs, they carry the most poison that could flow into ovarian estuaries. My shower head looks wary, my hair is unwashed and purified from rust. The snake shrieks without sound, a thumping dullness captured like moth flailing in pillowcases, its fangs are pierced into my calf that is dripping swollen and caked painful, a body thrashing. Tremors are felt in rural Mississippi homesteads, the news report says a 5.5 on the Richter scale, they haven’t heard a jubilant drum circle before. My small hands wrestle modern minotaur and I summon strength like trickster aunties who wield baskets like shield and watercress like holy communion, I am singular militancy in the name of liberation and clean river.






This Question of Healing, This Question of Sovereignty Sterling HolyWhiteMountain

So much of our lives are spent looking backward. So much of healing is about looking backward. Look around you -- post-colonial (are we post-colonial?) indigeneity is seemingly inextricable from the desire to heal, the desire to extricate ourselves from the pain that came with colonization. The loss of language. The loss of ceremony. The loss of land. The loss of family and community. The resulting loss of self. Can indigeneity exist separate from the shadow of colonialism? Can we decolonize without forever tying ourselves to the people who colonized? Within the context of indigeneity what does it mean to heal?

Certainly it means ceremony. Certainly it means therapy. (It would be nice if ceremony solved all our problems, but it doesn’t.) Certainly it means language. Certainly it means standing on the land of your ancestors. Certainly it means a decolonization that is more than mere reaction, more than mere platitudes, more than mere bravado. More than mere talk. The problem with a healing that only looks backward is that it leaves us unable to look forward. The problem with ceremony is that it only brings us into the present. The problem with how we conceptualize healing in relation to colonized indigeneity is we utterly fail to include the future. I have spent my life in Indian Country; we spend our time turning in circles, cannibalizing each other, going nowhere. And our relatives who don’t live in our current homelands, they spend all their time thinking about racism, indigenous bodies, and white people. The one thing that draws us together and inextricably binds us is our desire for an answer to the question of what do we do. How do we fix this?

Where do we go? I would offer this: where we go is sovereignty. I had spent many years engaged in the standard forms of healing. Sweats. Fasts. Prayer. Therapy. Conversation. And while healing is certainly never complete, my quest did not feel whole until I found a way to look forward toward sovereignty. Self-rule. The ability to determine for ourselves the course of our collective future. When I realized sovereignty was the answer to many, if not the vast majority of the problems that consume so much of our thought at this moment in time, that was when I saw how much we suffered, individually and collectively, from a lack of direction. That was also the moment I felt a new freedom. Here is the thing about being a human—we are nothing without dreams, and what are most dreams but a desire for something to come to fruition? The problem with being colonized is that until you are fully freed from the dreams of the colonizer, you can’t see what it is that you want. You see what others want for you. And until that changes you’re no better than a child who hasn’t yet cast off the imprisoning dreams of an overbearing parent. We have lived so long with the dreams of others we no longer know what it means to have our own dreams, to wake and see what there is to be done about making those dreams a lived reality. What is the arbiter of dreams but cultural context? And where is the truest indigenous context but a context in which a people can determine for themselves what their collective dream is? The dream we’re looking for is a dream of sovereignty.


Of course the situation is complicated (Do we want racial sovereignty? I would hope not. Do we want something other than a mere replica of the American economy? I would hope so.) and of course this dream is not something anyone alive right now is likely to see come to any kind of fruition. But also -what kind of dream is a dream whose only purpose is to satisfy us right here, right now? Those treatysigners weren’t merely thinking of themselves; they were thinking of us, people they would never meet but who were nonetheless important to them because we came from them. We were part of the great continuity. They would, in some way or another, live through us.

“The dream we’re looking for is a dream of sovereignty” There is a way in which our healing process, if it does not include some way of looking forward to the people who will be here long after us, will come up short. Will be little more than putting out fires until everything has burned. Will do an injustice to those men who drew an X next to their name in the name of a future they wouldn’t see. Will do an injustice to that special capacity that seems peculiar to human beings: the ability to envision a world yet to be, followed by the ability to bring -- or attempt to bring -- that world into being. 16


I’m not suggesting political sovereignty is the only solution, but I am saying it’s the only solution that solves a multiplicity of our current problems at once, all of which are problems of the colonized. A dream of sovereignty is, like all dreams, contextual. Our ancestors didn’t dream of political sovereignty because no such thing conceptually existed; they were, however, sovereign people who determined, as best they could, like any free people, their fate. The only way to be sovereign unto ourselves in our current context is through political sovereignty; anything else, anything less is merely to live fugitively, collecting what you can while you can, surviving where you can, on the run and under assault until the end of time. And the only way to experience that sovereignty in its fullest form is on our land, with our languages, with our laws, governments, with each other, ready to welcome those who want to experience that beauty with us. We must begin to ask ourselves the beautiful questions, the ones that thrill us with their freedom, the ones that leave us cautious but ready for the coming responsibility. Any vision of our healing that does not include such a future is incomplete, a hamstrung healing, a heart without a brain. I don’t think it is enough to look to the past for answers and connection and knowledge; we must find a way to look forward, also. Our vision for healing, if it does not leave something good for those who come after us, is incomplete. And, though it might seem like a strange thing to say, we should ask more of our healing than good feelings. We must ask our healing to be visionary.




2017 Necklace made of glass beads, faux leather

“A representation of the every day violence I face in a colonized society. Too large to be functional, Too tight to speak easily.” – Tia Blais-Billie


“The medicine wheel is the name now used to refer to a Native American symbol of a circle divided by the lines that mark the 4 cardinal directions. Medicine Wheels outline the summer and winter solstices as well as other cosmological events. They have 28 spokes referencing the lunar cycle. The wheel is a way to perceive the natural law. Many native nations have words that describe living within balance. Every person has their own wheel and the responsibility to cultivate the four aspects: the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.” 21


Checking the Box Dyรกni Brown

“You don’t look Native American,” the deejay said, ignoring my request for a New Year’s Eve shout-out for my Navajo friend and I. Had I been Jamaican, Dominican, Black, or any other ethnicity he had called out, I doubt I would have been confronted with the same skepticism. I could have showed my Tribal Identification Card.
But his eager yes to my facetious offer was demeaning to say the least. “So, what percentage are you?” the Native Politics professor asked, oblivious to his callousness. I served two terms as chairwoman of my nation’s Tribal Council. Surely my experience as a tribal delegate had more relevance than the lineage of my mother’s mother’s parents, and my father’s parents being Shinnecock, Montaukett, Blackfoot, and two other tribes that we can only trace back to Virginia and Bermuda. But how much consideration could I really expect from a man who in the same breath, claimed he didn’t know there were many tribes that remained east of the Mississippi? With the same smug ignorance, he casually shrugged off the widely known Connecticut tribes as fake. “Your tribe only slipped through the system,” said a young man from a northwest tribe -- he had an uncanny resemblance to the Brawny paper towel man. Sure. If 32-years and 400,000-pages of documentation that satisfied all seven federal recognition criteria without contest by the U.S. government constitutes as ‘slipping through the system.’


His friends said he gets belligerent when he drinks. Still, what makes him think he is more entitled to his Native heritage than I am to mine? Was it my skin color that compelled him to suspicion as well as my nontraditional physicality that dissuaded the Black deejay and the White professor? If their skepticism is based purely on historical stereotypes, then in all the old pictures I have ever seen of Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, and other famous Native warriors, their skin was as brown as mine. Even animations of Pocahontas and Sacajawea were not as pale as Brawny-boy.

Growing up on a reservation in the heart of the Hamptons, my world consisted of just four classifications: White, Black, Latino, and Shinnecock. I fell into three of these categories; two were by default. At home and at school I was Shinnecock. Outside of my tribal community the peers I befriended at the village public school were aware of the fact that our people were here first. However, to strangers I was Black. Pale eyelids ceased to blink as pastel irises chased me through fancy village boutiques. But when I traveled west into the city boroughs, particularly 146th and Grand Concourse, Latin men would whistle. “Ven aquí mami!” they would say, followed by a jumbled dialogue that I could not understand. To them I was Dominican. It was a game.


“What race do people think you are?” my cousins and I would tease one another. Some were paler than me, some more olive. Puerto Rican, White, East or West Indian. We got it all -- anything but Native. All of us were hardwired to accept these prescribed identities as normal. Check the box that describes your background. Even the college application prescribes me an identity: American Indian. Until I went off to college, it had never occurred to me to ponder what it was that lumped together and renamed our many evolved indigenous communities with the watered-down title of “Native American/ American Indian.” But whatever this ideology was, it had also simultaneously caused people of our newly prescribed race to reject one another. In anthropology class, I learned that this blatant attempt at the divide and conquer of my indigenous roots and the ease to claim my own identity was called whiteness. Whiteness dictates how I am expected to identify myself because it is the ideal measurement on which America was built. Whiteness is the normative default that reinforces those who have it, like Brawny-Boy with a sense of entitlement while alienating those who do not. If history permitted Whites to be deconstructed into a separate inferior race known as White Trash and the globally rejected Jewish community to become normalized as White, then American Indians embodies both. Whitemixed Natives are the normalized exception to the government-instigated stereotype of full-blood American Indian; while black-mixed Natives are demoralized as inferior and labeled as imposters unworthy of inclusion. 28

According to this rule, I cannot rightfully claim to be American Indian because my mother’s father was Black and my father’s grandfather was halfBlack and half-Irish. Even more appalling is that I am dissuaded from taking equal pride in all my bloodlines because I am forced to excessively defend my Nativeness. “Don’t stand too close to the darker Indians,” an elder said to me during a powwow. “The others will think you’re pretending.” I am no wannábe Indian. I am Shinnecock.

“Whiteness dictates how I am expected to identify myself because it is the ideal measurement on which America was built.” Yet the fact that I have been immersed in Shinnecock culture since birth -- beading, making regalia, weaving, dancing, singing, cooking, recounting oral history, and relearning the language—holds no weight as I and others like me are constantly coerced into proving our authenticity. I do not know the family traditions of my maternal grandfather Gilmore Lacy because he died before I was born. All I can recall about my paternal great-grandma, Maryland Morton, are her striking blue eyes and that she cherished her Irish roots by dying hair fire-orange-red till the day she died. 29

She was 86 and lived in Ohio. I was 13, and only visited once a year on holidays. I would like to equally celebrate all of my ethnicities but I have not learned how.

“So, are you full-blooded?� says any stranger anytime I reveal that I am Native. Who in America is full blood anything anymore? I have never had any reason to question how much Indian blood I had in my veins because Shinnecock is all I have ever known. My birth name is Shinnecock. I breathe, eat, pray, and think Shinnecock. And when I die, I will be laid to rest next to my Shinnecock ancestors as my nephews walk in drum procession singing my spirit up to the heavens that rise over the westward peak that overlooks Shinnecock Bay. Even if I wanted, I cannot pretend to be anything other than Shinnecock. The only way I can attempt to measure my Nativeness is by the degree to which I honor the legacy of my ancestors through pride, respect, and values. But as American Indians we are socialized to be cynical of one another because whiteness requires a singular realm of identity. As American Indians, we blindly subscribe to this singular ideal because historically our livelihood depended on it. Centuries of genocide, victimization, and systematic abuse have bullied us into explicitly and implicitly checking the box to inherit the benefit of survival. In doing so, we have forgotten how to respect one another as human beings. We have lost what it means to be stewards of the Creator. 30

“The frontier is where civilization meets savagery,” my history professor introduced her lesson plan on the first day of class. I assumed she did not expect a real-live Native American to be sitting front row. It is disheartening to see that even at the highest education level, ignorance still prevails. What hope is there when the minds of tomorrow’s leaders are being shaped based on antiquated ideals, rooted in normalized whiteness? If this is civilization, I’ll pass.



contributors Braudie Blais-Billie (Seminole Tribe of Florida) is a writer and the editor of indige•zine. Her work focuses on indigenous issues, music, and pop culture. She is currently a contributing style writer for Billboard Magazine.

Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King) is a First Nations (Potawatami and Chippewa) multimedia artist whose work is rooted in identity, politics and spirituality.

Frank Waln is a Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist and producer from the Rosebud Reservation.

Dyáni Brown was born and raised on the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, NY. She was awarded the 2015 Louise M. Young Memorial Prize for Distinguished Work in Literature and Human Values by an Undergraduate Woman for “Checking the Box” by the American University Department of Literature. 33

gayndn, Leech Lake Band of Ojibiwe.

Moira J. (White Mountain Apache) is an agender, queer writer who explores sexuality, spirituality, trauma and displacement. Their poems have been published in Girls Get Busy Zine and i-D Magazine.

Sarah Stern (Cherokee) works for the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health where she works closely with tribal communities to improve adolescent health, alcohol and drug abuse prevention, and nutrition.

Sterling HolyWhiteMountain grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation. He is a fiction writer and essayist, and currently directs the writing center at Blackfeet Community College.

Tia Blais-Billie (Seminole Tribe of Florida) is an Illustration student at the Rhode Island School of Design with a love for comics and cartoons.