the things indian girls do

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

at first glance, someone outside of our understanding and our history would think that Gloria over-reacted.[1] would think that she misread things the day her dad kicked her in the ass as she bent over to pick up a chunk of wood; a chunk of wood that had fallen away from the others cradled in her strong arms. one would think her, and us, to be childish.    wild.     indian.   in that would be the explanation, the reasoning, the comfort in which a person (or people) could sit and look out and never, everever have to look in. eventually Gloria got it right though—a reaction that wasn’t over or under, just persistent.     resistant.     constant.     yep. she reacted, responded to what life gave her in all the ways she knew how best to.

Gloria’s constant always persistent resistant reactions, responses didn’t budge anyone from their position of looking out though, instead of in. her truth-telling and truth-telling and more truth-telling, running and running away, looking for The One, returning home and returning homehome, having her babies, drugging and druggingdrugging, getting beat up as adult, and then, beattodeath by buyer.

“…by buyer”.

truth, alliteration, and rhythmic beatings are strange. not fiction.

 nope. Gloria’s constant always persistant resistant reactions, responses stirred all of us who loved her. but those that put her on that path? nope. not a flinch. not a second guess. not even a sense of “am i somehow responsible for this path of hers?”.


on that day when one piece of wood dropped and she got kicked in the ass really hard, we got Gloria’s reaction. we knew what it was about and because we got it, we all ran away with her immediately into the bush. we ran, together, without even missing a beat, without a question asked, without a second guess. we knew what it was all about –that dropped wood and that kick. and that’s why we sought out a safe place for the night with her with only the language spoken from our collective silence: quick footsteps landing on earth; in&out loud breath of indian girls, too young to  be on fear and adrenaline; and, the warm shuffling of summer green leaves along our moving bodies. we ran until we knew we were far enough into the bush, far enough away into the green and light and last year’s decay     with her.

the things indian girls do

her dad wasn’t really her dad and he wasn’t well either. then, he adopted her. Gloria had an adoptive mom too of course, but as it is in worlds where people think of indians the way they do and indian girls even more the way they do, Gloria might as well not have had one or even two parents. the mom parent, in her  way, also had a kind of not-well, and on top of this, being woman, was the less-than parent. all that being so, even less-than parents can think of indian girls in a way and treat them how they think of them, too. this was all a part of Gloria’s life.

the silver of the situation was that she had siblings who were just as blessed as Gloria was in being adopted. yes yes yes. the reason being was that when she was adopted, they were adopted too and went with her, travelled with her, to here. blessed in a way, some say. in the reconfigurations of her life and geography she gained more siblings who, while being older than she, were the biological children and being born to folks who had an idea of how to live and be, what power do even  biological children have in such a situation? i’ve heard they’re doing well today. at least one of them i hear enjoys telling single indian mothers about the choices they’ve made, putting indian moms in their place with wisdom.

so, while it is that Gloria’s persistant actions may have always seemed like always-over-reactions to some, in the end she got strong in her actions. the parent and biological children are still around in their various ways but no matter how strong Gloria was, how forceful her message was over the years and over the places, it didn’t seem forceful enough to get them to budge from looking out to looking in.

forever, she is to blame

for her adoption

for her abuse

for her socially unacceptable coping strategies

for her murder

the damn stupid things indian girls do

looking out is what we’d do when we’d be in the bush. that day was no different. we looked out, her and us all in our own shades of brown and running.     running from a parent.     running scared.  running until running from him, afraid, turned us into running girls laughing. running the soft hills and grey crusty fungus covered rocks and land lush with rot held together by maple trees dotted with evergreens, trees and leaves and mushrooms and moss and soil and worms and birds and smells and sounds and feelings and and and growing there for years before we came along. growing there forever as if waiting for us to arrive at this particular moment for this particular reason. and we laughed and heaved while annoying fear, and more fear hung between us. even as notadults we knew something wasn’t right, and that something wasn’t going to be right for Gloria if she went back. after all, she was the toughest, the least afraid to speak back, the least likely to remain silent and, she was the oldest, closest to adolescence.

shelter.     we knew without blinking that she needed a place for the night. and this is the most astounding part of the story:

we were good at making a lean-to.

all the other forts made before in real play seemed to amount to something on this particular day. the finesse all four of us together had in gathering the materials for building a shelter for Gloria with Gloria, the know-how in knowing to build it against a long stretch of escarpment jutting out over a gentle slope and the quickness in doing all that, together without words, is mysterious.

the things indian girls do

are not mysterious,

they are

practical and sure,


and righteous

when it was done, we all sat inside, on the cedar bows covering the earth floor. we marveled at ourselves, smiling, laughing, and we marveled rightly so. we talked about him. how stupid he was, everything about him. none of us admitted the nauseating feeling hanging around. none of us knew it was nauseating fear or numbness pulsing our bellies, our throats, or our eyes that saw the sun setting on the hill before us through the fringe of dark lashes flickering just above the ridge of cheekbones. her dad wasn’t my dad, but he grew a notrightrock in my belly nonetheless. he did. it’s still there, hard and strong because rocks in bellies are like that whether they’re right or wrong.

we sat in the worry, the deadweight worry of what now. we talked ourselves through to better by way of make-believe about anything and everything not here, not now. still the truth of the matter and the truth that her parents wouldn’t be looking for her knowing as adults know, that kids always come back. kids mostly always come back because what else are they able to do, being kids? being indian kids. being indian girl kids. being indian girl kids stuck in white rural anywhere. adults know this. neighbours, too.

this is something else indian girls do:

get adopted into

born into

placed into

stuck into

white (rural) anywhere

the smell of a full summer day, that was soon leaving into dusk, was meandering down the side of a hill towards my house. and that’s where we built it.    the lean-to.    up on the eastern slope by my house. that way Gloria would be close to my house and far from hers. it was a kind of safety thing i guess. but really, how safe was my house, if we were up there building a lean-to for one of us who was running from what was sure to be more than a kick in the ass if she would have stayed or if she went back. really, how safe is safe when all you can do is to think that building a lean-to closer to one house than another is somehow better?

we parted ways. her siblings had to go back and they would never know, if asked, where Gloria was exactly. they might say she was in the bush but what would the parent(s) want with going in the bush? even where would they start? i went home with the plan in my chest to get food and a blanket. Gloria would come to my bedroom window later. my house, being the safe house, would not have wanted to know that i had to give her food because she would be sleeping in a lean-to up the hill because she ran away from what would come after a kick in the ass that came because a chunk of wood fell out of her arm. because because because. my house would welcome her as a friend coming to hang out or go for a walk but not as a girl who ran away from what would happen after being kicked in the ass. at least, this is what my indian girl head with a belly full of fear told me.

indian girls do


and feel.

and sense.


build shelter, get food.

be with each other. be for each other.

care for each other and look out for each other.

oranges. the big ones. two of them and one full, unopened package of Nabisco Premium Salted crackers. that’s what i gave her and that’s what she took when she arrived at my window at dusk. she said she’d be back for the blanket and a pillow and there they sat, below the window, the middle-warmest-blanket that goes under the comforter and over the thinnest blanket, folded nice-nice, and the puffiest pillow smooshed, all ready to go in a green, plastic garbage bag that i thought would be good in case it rained. as i laid in bed, i forced myself to let my thoughts go to her even though i was so scared for her, even though i was scared:  i imagined what my friend was doing, was thinking. i imagined what i thought might be the bare naked alone and quiet in darkness that she must have been feeling up there on the hill in that lean-to. i imagined my strong, beautiful bestfriend alone over there in the night.

the next morning, i looked out the window and saw the green garbage bag was still there. i no longer remember but i must have been able to get it back in my room without questions. i don’t remember any of us speaking about any of it to each other in the days that followed. and, i forget what prompted it, but Gloria told me later, not the nextday or nextmonth later, but some time much later, that when the night started to get really dark and cold, she had to chose between staying in the lean-to by herself or going back home.

the things indian girls do

[1] This blog publication is edited from first publication in hearts beating: a zine project honouring women, co-edited by Sarah Martens and Lissie Rappaport, (Winnipeg, January 2013). “the heart is a muscle the size of a fist, keep loving keep fighting” ~ hearts beating

hearts beating zine