The Saturday Rumpus Essay: Walk On


There is nothing mystical about Native women. Our struggles, bodies, love, and experiences are real and tangible. Our wisdom comes from observation and study. Our resilience comes from necessity. We learned pragmatism and hid our foresight from our children—with laughter and warm hands. We healed ourselves with our own medicine. Our work is not a novelty or a tourist reproduction. Our voices propose that everything came from our voices. When so much is at stake, I turn to my sisters.

Barbara Robidoux generates energy from stagnant room—I’ve seen her do it. This is the energy Indigenous women bring into the world. I don’t believe in essentialism, but I do believe the things I’ve witnessed in my thirty-three years as a First Nations woman.

I believe our voices are inherited, and what we do with them is significant. I’ve only known comfort in the presence of women. I’ve only known my healers to be women who picked, cultivated, and dried medicines on their kitchen counters.

After the election, I feared for the women in my community, the people I know who are undocumented, and the people I know who depend on assistance and security. I feared for the people who have already learned to expect the least from our government.

We collectively feel the wall being built. This nation is reaching a precipice or narrative occasion, where citizenship could mean complicity. Even the people indigenous to the land feel displaced.

Barbara is an extraordinary mythmaker, but the myth is not about a trickster, or a spider, or a familiar moral tale. She’s charged like lightning, even after decades of resistance, demonstrations, marches, and rallies. It’s the magic of Indigenous resistance, the continuation of life after they thought they killed the Indian to save the man. It’s the continuity that will baffle Trump.

What follows is an immediate message and a call to action from my friend, a woman who does not stop working.

“I just finished civil disobedience training,” Barbara said to me. “I’ve been to jail. I don’t like it.”

She said she is praying and drumming and working with her hands—just to do something, anything to prevent the worst. We all feel compelled to do something.

After the election, Barbara gave a speech before a demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I want to share some of her words and the work that she’s doing.

–Terese Mailhot, Rumpus Saturday Editor


Stand Up! Brush yourself off. There is no time for tears, for self-pitying platitudes.

You say you are my ally, well stand up!

There is now a rich, racist, misogynist man who wants to lead. He is not my leader.

He doesn’t speak my language nor does he want to learn it. I am an Indigenous, Two Spirited grandmother. My ancestors survived Andrew Jackson when he ordered our removal from our homelands, even when our people refused his relocation effort.

“Walk,” he said. And some walked the Trail Where They Cried to Oklahoma. Many died walking. My family hid in the Great Smokey Mountains, and lived in caves and made themselves invisible until they could intermarry with whites and pass.

They refused to walk.

Don’t you dare ask me to walk again. I am seventy-two years old and I stand. I stood for civil rights in the ‘60s, for peace against war in the ’70s and ’80s and I am still standing for Oceti Sakowin in North Dakota today. And I stand for Missing and Murdered Native women all over this land. I stand with anyone who will risk danger to protect our sacred waters and this planet from its destruction by greed and the disregard for life. I stand with them. Don’t ask me to walk again. I am done.


Rich white racist leaders that you are—I reject you. You walk on.

We learned that the President-elect has surrounded himself with his children and inexperienced “good ole boys.” We don’t have the luxury to retreat into our sheltered silences.

I am a writer. Yesterday I gave a reading at the Institute of American Indian Arts. I was prepared to read from my novella, set on the reservation in Maine. But could not. I could not, in light of recent political events. Instead, I read poems that I wrote a decade ago, words that spoke of 9/11, the “Patriot Act,” and atrocities that were perpetrated against Muslims and people of color in the name of patriotism.

A full blood Cherokee woman was killed in Tulsa by a car full of young white men screaming “Arab Go Home.” They crushed her against a wall with their car when she tried to talk with them. To tell them she had never left America. That her ancestors have lived on this land since time began. Here is where our pains intersect.

Donald J. Trump has opened up a Pandora’s box of racist and misogynist attitudes and behaviors. Already in the first days after his election, children as well as adults are victims of injustices. The culprits, from Trump’s basket of deplorables. As writers, we must write it out. Tear off the veils and air the rotting fruits.

Ursula Le Guin, when she recently received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, said, “hard times are coming.”

She eloquently spoke to us: “… we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom—poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality.”


One hopes that Barack Obama will step up to obstruct Trump’s machinery of oppression and hatred. He can stop DAPL, strengthen Black Lives Matter, and immigrant rights. But we cannot trust that he will do this. His time is running out.

It is left up to all of us to recognize real grounds for hope. To call it out and to demand that we are heard.


Photographs provided courtesy of Barbara Robidoux.

Barbara Robidoux is the author of two books of poetry Waiting for Rain (2007) and Migrant Moon (2012). Her fiction has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, The Yellow Medicine Review, the Santa Fe Literary Review, and numerous anthologies. Sweetgrass Burning is her first collection of short stories. More from this author →