I heard the term ‘crazy Indian’ a few times when I was a young girl. My cousins told me to “keep six” every time we walked into a bar, and then we ended up in a brawl where they showcased some Roadhouse moves. I called them crazy. When my cousin threw a cast iron at her boyfriend, I called her crazy. When I stabbed a man with a fork, I was called crazy. I guess those things are crazy out of context, or in context, depending on the observer. All I know is the stigma that Indians are crazy is the type of stigma white supremacy likes to see ruminate within our minds.
If crazy is being out of one’s mind, I guess, by all accounts, Natives could be crazy. We’re interconnected, not in our own minds all the time, according to the wide variety of articles I’ve found on the topic. I’m thinking about a continuum, my lineage, and the people coming after me, as I’m working, living, helping my family back home, and raising my kids within my community. I’m out of my mind, especially when I’m interacting with my environment, streamlining my home, and reducing my life down so that I can say I don’t live in excess. Crazy, right?
If crazy is mentally insane, like, clinically, it’s debatable at best. According to the research, about 70% of Natives where I’m from feel in balance when it comes to their spiritual, physical, and emotional well-beings, and those who didn’t feel in-balance were far more likely than non-Natives to seek help. Crazy, right? Not only are most of us feeling okay, but we’re willing to admit when we aren’t.
If crazy is dying by choice, then we have problems. I’ve been to a lot of funerals where someone was reckless with their life, and you’d think the family, our family, would talk about how selfish the person was for taking his life, or how thoughtless, etc, but we just talk about how lovely that person was, and we avoid the knowledge of his trauma, pain, inherited turmoil and history. We cry, but we don’t blame him, not in public. Like I said before, we’re interconnected, and speaking for myself, the daughter of a resilient woman, who was the daughter of a resilient woman, dying makes sense some days, when I know there are Indian women going missing every day, when I know there are Indian women exploited every day, when I see the trauma my brother witnessed, and nobody answered for it, because we were Indian, or when I’ve seen, at every turn, indignity towards myself and my own. It made a lot of sense when I was a girl, and I had a drunken stepfather who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and I couldn’t tell my mother, and I was ashamed it was my fault. It felt crazy to exist, when the choice felt like absolution: letting my mother be happy with her man, not being dirty, not being a burden.
It made sense during some awful times, but I’ve made a commitment to live, because I am the daughter and granddaughter of women I can’t shame, and my children, my brother, and my cousins all need me. I’m simply saying, suicide doesn’t make anyone crazy, not when one looks at the trajectory of their life and the absurdity of it all. I mean, my tribe has funding for me to go back home if there’s a funeral, but not if there’s a birth. How absurd is that?
“Keep six,” my cousins said. I thought they were crazy, ‘til a man came toward us, and I could see in his eyes he wanted to inflict pain. “Crazy Indian,” he said, when I pulled my arm out of his grip in the parking lot. “Keep six,” they said, and then the white girls called us drunken Indians for ordering a drink. I don’t go to bars back home anymore, just like I don’t like to drink in public, because they like to judge us, to keep their mind from turning inward. When my cousin threw her pan at her boyfriend, I later found out he had waited in the bushes each night as she left her job to see if she was cheating. Still not a reason to throw a pan, but then I found out he jumped out from that bush the night before, and hurt her so bad she still won’t tell me what he did. Only that it hurt, bad.
When I stabbed the man with a fork, he had violated me a few nights before, and then showed up at my door, refusing to leave. I opened it, and he walked in. I grabbed the only thing on my counter. He called me crazy and held his punctured chest as he ran to his car. I shut the door and wept, because nobody would believe me. I could only cry alone, quiet enough not to wake my son. We might be crazy, but not in the way they think. We’re simply still alive, and all that’s left to ask is why? We have the answers: for our children, our brothers and sisters, the survivors, our cousins, the man who walked around the rez, blessing people with cedar boughs, because after his stroke it was all he could do, for our grandmothers and every crazy Indian with the bravery to live, for ourselves, and whatever dream we have: mine is writing at a table, to you, telling you the truth of my life, and that I won’t stop living, no matter the pain. I can change the trajectory by simply living. They’d like to see us die, feel shame, acquiesce to the shame they’ve caused, and I refuse. I’m going to laugh tonight, in the name of the dead and the living, and all the crazies I know.
Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. Her work has been featured in The Offing, and Burrow Press Review. She studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts and is an SWAIA Discovery Fellow.
Links on interconnectedness:
Links on Native people feeling balance and seeking help when needed: