The Whore Next Door: The Activist Next Door

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

“What’s the Native American word for ‘Indian tacos?’ ” one of my mother’s dinner guests asked. “This is reservation food,” she said, fishing the golden pillow of fried dough out of the cast-iron skillet, and patting off the hot oil with a paper towel. “We just call ’em ‘Indian tacos.’ ”

Our people, the Northern Californian Modocs, traditionally hunted venison and harvested a water lily called wokus. Indian tacos are made with ground buffalo meat, commodity cheese, beans, fry bread, salsa, and sour cream. They taste like hot summertime powwows and big family holidays.

It may not be the food of my ancestors, but it’s definitely the food of my people.

A week before the election, I was hell-bent on spending Thanksgiving protesting alongside my mother and the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Ever since I was young, when my mother has gotten fired up at night after dinner, it’s usually because she’s talking about the need for sovereign native nations to unite against the federal government — which is exactly what is happening right now at Standing Rock, where more than 250 tribes have united against the Dakota Access Pipeline. First Nations haven’t come together like this since the Battle of Little Big Horn, so I thought, “What better way to spend Thanksgiving?” I looked at flights, and made a list of supplies while dreaming about experiencing this historic event with my bad-ass mom, continuing the traditions of our ancestors, and fighting for the land rights of indigenous people.

Following in my grandfather’s footsteps, my mother has gotten her hands into the mess that is tribal politics. She’s run for tribal council and is currently serving on the advisory committee for this year’s restoration powwow. Her ideas are radical and include policy suggestions like tribes growing and selling industrialized hemp (as the Oglala and Navajo have attempted) and building a Trump-style wall around every reservation so police have to go through a checkpoint in order to enter.

Of course, water rights, and the encroachment of them, is an issue that’s far from unknown to the Klamath Tribes, including Modocs. I remember the day ranchers from town formed a “bucket brigade” to steal from our tribe’s reservoir in protest of our treaty-protected water rights. A giant metal bucket was erected in front of the county courthouse a few months later to memorialize their theft.

My mother’s best friend at the time had been on the brigade. That was almost two decades ago, and the two women still no longer speak.

“We know that water is life, and we as a people cannot survive in its absence,” wrote Klamath Tribal Chairman Donald Gentry in his letter of support to the Standing Rock Tribe.

This is not just about water. It’s about protecting the last shreds of what we have left after the generations of genocide and systematic deprivation of our rights and dignities.

Unlike my grandfather and several generations that came before, I didn’t have to grow up on the reservation in Chiloquin, Oregon, and I was never forced to go to an Indian school. The legacy of my heritage comes mostly in the form of economic insecurity, fry bread recipes, and a deep mistrust of government institutions. I’m proud to come from people who fought what has been called the longest and most expensive Indian War against the U.S. government, and I feel as though it’s part of my heritage to continue that fight. Because, as we’ve seen in the past few months, there will be many more battles ahead.

For months now, hundreds of first nations people alongside their allies have been protecting land, water, and a way of life even in the face of bitter cold and violent assaults from militarized law enforcement. As reports of horrific violence at Standing Rock began to surface — water protectors being kept in cages, attacked by hounds, hosed down in freezing temperatures, and mangled with “non-lethal” weapons that rip skin and break bones — my brave, beautiful mother told me with fear in her voice that it was too dangerous for us to go. This was no longer just a protest; it was now the front lines of a war.

This world, this life, these bodies — they all seem so much more breakable than they did a few weeks ago. They say it gets worse before it gets better, right? As I eat leftover buffalo meat in the moonlight while my mother sleeps safely in her bedroom, just two walls away, I quietly purchase wool socks, milk of magnesia, and instant hot packs from the water protectors’ wishlist, and I pray it doesn’t have to get too much worse.

View Comments