When my sister’s dates pulled into our driveway my mother would yell, “Here comes Honky!” My sister was always livid, embarrassed, but still, she went out with white men most of her adult life. I always thought she was a traitor. I thought someday my Indian prince would come: the son of an activist in braids, with a mind full of theory and a stoic wisdom. But surprisingly I fell in love with a white man, with dusty blond hair and blue eyes.
I was always told we were a dying breed. “Meet a Native man,” my mother said. Blood quantum is important where I’m from. Land rights, healthcare, housing, and assistance all deal with blood quantum and how Indian one is ‘officially.’ Besides that, marrying Native was always what I dreamed of.
For generations Native women could not govern their own bodies, because white men and officials dictated we were their wards. We were subject to exploitation, objectification, and degradation at the hands of white people. Why would I ever want to give my body or love to a white man, a man who could never understand my grief or lineage?
I looked for a Native man, and it was tough. Every Native man within 50 miles of me was related to me, and besides that most of them were just not into the things I loved. I was weird: into books, writing, big ideas and sad movies. I looked weird: I had a big head and glasses. Let’s just say I wasn’t hot on the market.
I ended up taking a creative writing class when I was thirty years old, going to class, not caring what I look like, completely engrossed in my work. I met someone in the midst of finding my voice on the page: I fell in love with my teacher. He was hapless, a thinker, goofy, with a big head like mine and a ton of weird interests, but he was white. Too white. He turned the radio to the Spanish station and exclaimed, “I’m trying to immerse myself in the culture here.” Lord, he was so white. I fell in love with him.
There was something about his eyes, his words, which reached right into the heart of me and made my pain and beauty feel witnessed. It was profound, and everything I could hope for in a man, but the problem was he wasn’t Native. I felt conflicted. He didn’t understand rezz life. He didn’t know how white women followed me around in stores, or how people judged me on the street. He just didn’t get it. But he got the heart of me: that sometimes I stare off in the distance thinking about my mother’s small hands, or how much I miss my grandmother’s smell. He got that sometimes. I cry when I read about another Indian girl going missing, and that’s something.
Yes, I married a white man. Heaven forbid. My children can get status, but as far as benefits and rights to the land, they’re going to struggle. My son’s hair is light brown and his eyes are a special type of gray, still trying to decide what they are. I finally understand my sister’s struggle when she’d take her mixed children shopping, and people mistook her for the kid’s maid. My life is further complicated by my decision to be in love, and I don’t regret it one bit.
I understand the need to keep our blood. It’s scary to see fewer of us. But my sons aren’t any less loveable for being mixed, and while one is darker than the other, both of them will have a right to sing the songs of my nation and stand with me in honor.
I feel pangs when I think of what my mother would say. I think she’d be happy I found love with a gentle man. I think she’d be glad I’m with a man who lets me write, but I know she’d be disappointed he wasn’t Native. I imagine her quiet disapproving nature as she watches my children play, and how she’d secretly be scared for their futures. All I can say is that love really did prevail. I looked, Mom. There was thousands of brilliant Native men out there, and I probably would have found one had I held out a little longer, but I don’t think I’d be better for it. I found love. The thing people live for, after years of watching you be tortured by it. I found someone who respects me as Indigenous, and who might be a corny white guy sometimes, but for the most part, he’s willing to learn how to help me pass on my lineage. My children are raised with the same values you gave me, they treat the elders well, and always wait their turn, sometimes they struggle to find rhythm, but they’re going to be just fine.
Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. Her work has been featured in Carve Magazine and Yellow Medicine Review. She’s a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts and an SWAIA Fellow.