The Passed Note Issue 1 June 2016 - Page 31

Whiteness would often deem itself the authority on Nativeness, that I could be less of who I claimed because of pigmentation.

I stared at her with confusion, afraid to disagree, afraid to disappoint my mother by renouncing her kinship. I shook my head, explaining my predicament as best a third grader can.

“My mother is Native.”

I didn’t know the weight a box could carry or why my mother spent hours telling me myths, stitching me moccasins, braiding my hair. I did not understand why my mother hated cowboy movies, why she threw away a headdress and spear my brother received as a Christmas present.

I remember being Brown and sitting in a class my junior year, the year I slowly began to accept the way my skin processed light. I sat in that class and shared a story about my mother, about myself, about our experiences growing up Native.

I wrote about my cousin in Seattle, attending Powwows with my uncle, about my mother on the reservation. I wrote about myself, removed from a culture that might have helped me embrace the feeling of my skin.

I remember being Brown and my eyes brimming with tears as I left the writing workshop and the criticism of my peers. I remember my teacher, a woman whom I admired with such a fierceness it bordered on worship, telling me that my story was inauthentic, that I did not understand the words I had written, that I could not appropriate this culture as my own. I remember being told that this was essay and not fiction, and that I could write another piece if I wanted credit.

I remember a girl in that class turning in a story about Indians where the character kept an eagle feather as a memento of the Great Spirit, and I remember my words of criticism, at the absurdity of the story, at the inaccuracies of myths. I remember my rage over the author being praised for her truth, when her truth was fiction.