A Thimble-Full of Native American Blood

I don’t need a DNA test to tell me who my mother is; I know who she was. –A.D.

I tell you that what you know is wrong;

                we are not natives, we are whites

                more British than the British, in fact

I tell you that your mother

              registered white on the census;

              she was never half Indian

I tell you that the memories of her chewing

a black gum tree twig, dancing

in circles with my father, laughing

while fry bread sizzles

in an iron skillet

are just country

I tell you that the only record remotely

                supporting this identity

                is the marriage record saying

                Colored

It never occurs to me to consider

                                          race was a perception

                                                                  not an identity

                                                                             and perception lies

It never occurs to me

                               that one culture

                                                    can completely erase

                                                                                              another

Yet there it is on paper:

              colored = powerless, vulnerable

                           White = Entitled To Own

There it is on paper:

               my native antecedents slipping

                                      off their indian skins, a thin layer

                                                                 of vanilla ice cream melting

                                                                                                  from their chins


In the mid-1800s following the Emancipation Proclamation and during reconstruction in the South, white plantation owners feared a loss of land to freed slaves and Native Americans. As a result, in North Carolina, the State Constitution made changes to label all non-whites as “colored” and designate that “colored” people could neither own land nor marry. Native Americans were encouraged to assimilate. If they could look white and pass for white, they claimed they were whites. It was the only way they could have a chance for a fair life in the new world, but it was also the way that many Native American tribes disappeared from history….including my own.