Poem: The Realities of Being an Indigenous Woman in the 21st Century

Delilah Dennett 24 May 2021
Image credit: Unsplash

Dedicated to the missing and murdered indigenous women of the world. This poem cannot revive you or bring you back, but it will acknowledge you when others refuse to.

The reality that my mother is a Buryat woman from Southern Mongolia.

The reality that my father is a white man.

The reality that Southern Mongolia is not Southern Mongolia but is actually formally known as ‘inner Mongolia’ by the Chinese government.

The reality that I do not recognise this invasive nomenclature.

The reality that I have not seen my mother for many years now and in fact she was absent for most of my childhood.

The reality that my mother suffers from crippling mental health problems that she could not face up to, even for me, and that she could not look after me like a mother is supposed to.

The reality that I was mostly brought up by white family members.

The reality that, no matter how much they loved me, they inevitably separated me from my indigenous heritage.

The reality that I did not realise that I was indigenous until I read a Wikipedia article on Indigenous Mongolians in ‘inner Mongolia’ whilst trying to stitch together the pieces of my history.

The reality that so many things make sense now.

The reality that I wonder how indigenous I can be if my mother was barely present in my life and I haven’t set foot in my ‘native’ land since 2010.

The reality that my own Mongolian family members shield their indigeneity from the world.

The reality that they were persecuted for this same identity during the Cultural Revolution so of course their integrity and pride would be culled.

The reality that I struggle to consider myself indigenous in light of this because of this gulf between myself and myself.

The reality that, regardless of my own personal grapplings with this, my indigeneity informs my present conditions, for example,

The reality that I may not live past the age of 50.

The reality that I am more likely to be incarcerated than my white peers.

The reality that I am more three and a half times more likely to face violence and abuse than my white peers.

The reality that my life runs dry as the ink from my pen settles onto this page because what could an indigenous woman possibly have to say about the universe?

The reality that I am scared of drinking alcohol, not because I am health conscious or ‘zen’, but because I don’t want to become my grandfather, living with his lips locked around a bottleneck, nursing the poison to heal the wounds of history, and become what they always assumed me to be: a savage bent on self destruction because she can’t get a grip on her liquor.

The reality that if I lapse into any kind of addiction, be it alcohol or drugs or food or self-loathing, it will always boil down to ‘it’s in their blood, they’re naturally that way’.

The reality that I’m aware of how jarring this poem reads, with its unbalanced metre and these wavering lines wandering about the page like lost spirits.

The reality that someone will read this and think that I’m being self-indulgent, when really the scars of my words have been leaking blood for quite some time now.

The reality that someone will read this and applaud themselves for how charitable they are being, how laudable it is for them to support the work of a marginalised artist and how good this makes them feel.

The reality that they may be engaging with this work to suck up to their own ego.

The reality that I won’t ever be read on the same level as a white artist, because they are not constantly being greeted with questions of ‘how well are you representing the white people’, ‘what does your work do for the white people’, and ‘how on earth can you speak for all white people’.

The reality that my indigeneity seeps through, whatever I do.

The reality that there are people who will appreciate this and manipulate this aspect of my writing.

The reality that the majority do not recognise their own stake in things.

The reality that I could decay or disappear in a plume of smoke, and no one will notice.

The reality that I am someone’s perverted fetish, whether sexual or artistic, something they have to keep secret because they are too ashamed to admit their fascination for my humanity.

The reality that I will always be read as ‘too’ sexual, ‘too’ intense, ‘too’ angry, ‘too’ impassioned, like an inflamed bruise, because of course I’m going to be held to a higher standard for all the things I see white people doing daily without repercussion.

The reality that I can barely see my own skin in this mottled light.

The reality that even if I defer to ‘respectability’, I will still be failing to live up to their ideals.

The reality that no matter what I do, I will always be in servitude to someone else’s stereotype.

The reality that I am not your serf, I am not your princess, I am not something you use to feel better about yourself, I am not your victim, I am not your hero, I am not some vengeance visited upon you for the sins of man, and for fuck’s sake stop heralding me as some turbo eco-warrior because you think I’m a noble savage who is ‘more connected to nature’, or whatever shit you believe about indigenous people.

The reality that I have been hit and abused more times that I can count.

The reality that I can barely count the times when someone has deigned to feel the heartbeat of my humanity.

The reality that I’m aware, even as I’m writing this, that I cannot speak for all indigenous women.

The reality that my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my cousins, my aunts, my friends and my ancestors may not see themselves in this account.

The reality that we are not cut from the same loin of soiled sunset, although others would have you believe that we are a monolith.

The reality that I speak regardless.

The reality that I must speak to stop the blood loss from my wounds.

The reality

The –

The real –

The reality – the


The reality that this testimony will always be up for contention.