graduate school first semester: so here I am writing about Indians again

By Cheryl Savageau b. 1950 Cheryl Savageau

“The conquest is not sustainable . . .”
                                  —Winona LaDuke


thanks for bringing that
to our attention
she said the first time
to my response to a history text
about a famous painting
of the Battle of Quebec
that never mentioned the French
and only mentioned Indians twice,
once as nuisances, once
as the noble savage
kneeling by the dying
English general

this was during
the French and Indian war
I said, soon thousands
of French and Indian people
would be displaced, sold
into indentured servitude
my own family among them
there would be bounties
on the heads of Abenaki people
in Maine, and the English
would sow the fields of the Mohawks
with salt

thanks for bringing that up,
she said

the next book mentioned
cannibals in the Caribbean,
Indians who believed the Spanish were
gods, Indians killing themselves, Indian
women in love with Spanish pricks, Indians
whose names, even when known, were
passed over in favor of the ones
given them by the Spanish

stop writing about
Indians
she told me
you’re making everyone
feel guilty

but the next book
was back in Maine
home territory
the diary of a midwife
right after that same
French and Indian war
and she was using herbs
not found in English herbals
and wrote that a “young
squaw” visited her
over a period of
three weeks, but

the famous historian
said only that
there may have been
Indians in the area,
while she wrote
at length about
white men dressing up
as Indians
to protest against the rich
stealing their lands

stop writing about Indians
she told me again
only louder as if
I was hard of hearing
you have to allow authors
their subjects, she said
stop writing about
what isn’t in the text

which is just our entire history

this week, she said
I’m really upset
you’re telling the same story
three times
because there’s only
one story about Indians
and we all know what it is
so I asked her if there are an
infinite number of stories about
white people
and she told me to
stop being racist

so I stayed away from class for a week
because they were reading a book
about a mystery in the Everglades
and I knew there had to be
Indians in that swamp
and I didn’t want to have to
write about Indians
again

it was on to the next book
written, she said by
a Cherokee writer,
which Leslie Silko, who is Laguna,
will be interested to find out
because the book was Ceremony
but that is a small mistake
sort of like saying that
Dante is Chinese, so
I overlooked it

now, she told me
write about Indians

and I might have done that
except she went on
about Indians putting on
a mask of whiteness
like white people put on
black face, and some of the students
wrote it down in their notebooks
and everyone started talking about
minstrel shows

then she wanted me to tell her
if there is such a thing as
an Indian world view
and I said, well, yes and no,
which I figured was safe
since I would be at least
half-right whichever answer
she wanted, but when I mentioned
the European world view,
she said there isn’t any such thing
which was quite a relief to me,
I hate to think there were a
whole lot of people thinking in
hierarchies and as if the
earth is a dead object and
animals and plants and some people
not having spirit
then she said I’d better stick
to what I know, that is,
Indians, which is what
I was trying to do in the first place,
and that maybe European philosophy
was too much for my primitive
brain in spite of its being my
undergraduate major
and I pointed out that the
oppressed always know more
about the oppressor than vice
versa, so she just glared at me
and told me that I look
Scandinavian

which was a surprise to me
and I wondered why I never was a
prom queen since it was always the
Scandinavian girls who got that
honor, maybe they never
noticed I was one of them. Exactly
how much Indian are you anyway?
she asked. I told her I guessed
I was pretty much Indian. I
suppose she wondered
why I wouldn’t accept that mask of
whiteness she kept talking about
as myself


Cheryl Savageau, “graduate school first semester: so here I am writing about Indians again” from Mother/Land. Copyright © 2006 by Cheryl Savageau. Reprinted by permission of Salt Publishing.

Source: Mother/Land (Salt Publishing, 2006)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Cheryl Savageau b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Cheryl  Savageau

Biography

Of Abenaki and French Canadian heritage, Cheryl Savageau was born in central Massachusetts. She graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and studied writing at the People’s Poets and Writers Workshop in Worcester. She is the author of the poetry collections Home Country (1992), Dirt Road Home: Poems (1995) nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Mother/Land (2006).
 
Savageau’s poetry retells Abenaki stories, . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.