Just Another Indian Dead

Murielle Borst Tarrant is an author, playwright, director, producer, cultural artist, educator, and human rights activist.

Murielle Borst Tarrant is an author, playwright, director, producer, cultural artist, educator, and human rights activist. Author of the fantasy series The Star Medicine, she studied at HB STUDIOS in New York City, studied and interned with Spiderwoman Theatre, and is also a graduate of Long Island University. She works on the deconstructing of methods of the arts in Native communities in urban areas across the country, Canada, and in the NYC education system. She also consults with many urban and non-urban universities on the development of Native theater programming. Nominated for the Rockefeller grant in 2001, she won a Native Heart Award, and was the only Native American Woman to be selected by the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia at the Sydney Opera House for her one-woman show, More than Feathers and Beads. She served as the Special Assistant and Liaison to Tonya Gonnella Frichner, the North American Regional Representative to the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and served as Chairwoman for the Woman’s Caucus for North America 2013 to May 2014. Murielle directed Muriel Miguel, founder of Spiderwoman Theater in Red Mother, nationally and internationally, and was the Keynote Speaker for the Indigenous Women’s Symposium at Trent University. She was recently selected to speak on “Repetition, Tradition and Change: Native oral history and contemporary art practice in hostel post-colonial times” at the International Conference at the Muthesius Academy of Art in Kiel, Germany and the Norwegian Theater Academy. Named in American Theater Magazine as one of the most influential women in American Theater. She is the Artist Director of Safe Harbor Indigenous Collective and consultant for LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Indigenous Initiative. She has recently produced, written and directed Don’t Feed the Indians—A Divine Comedy Pageant! At LaMaMa Theatre.

We are the footnote, the Americana, the mystical, the noble savage, the November Indian heritage month, we are the “Oh yes that’s right” and always the other. We are the note at the end of the song that is never heard. We are the ones that fought your wars, gave you democracy, gave you your suffrage movement, the land you stand on.  We serve this country that has abused us, stolen from us, taken our rights but yet when one of us dies it is… Just another Indian dead. The term used when colonizers first came to our shores, after a massacre, after the very first epidemic, always listed as just another Indian dead.

 The sun goes down tonight in this city that I love with its manufactured canyons of concrete,  landscapes of steel, the glow of the river as the sun hits the peaks of the city mountains. As I watch that spectacular background while the sun cascades into the horizon and look at the water of the Hudson River, the darkness captures my soul and I realize tonight was just another Indian dead.  

We will look at a body for the last time tomorrow with gloves and masks on. We will mourn from afar because we cannot touch for comfort, hoping to see the sorrow with each other. Giving solace as best as we can to these daughters and grandchildren that are left behind. But there will be no reporters there to see this family grieve.  They will not be seen on television because we are the invisible, after all it is,  just another Indian dead. Our communities are being devastated by this virus as we speak but yet among all of this diversity, all of this inclusion, all of this equal equity, we are still not talked about or seen on television for the benefit concerts and the reporting specials. It after all is still, just another Indian dead.     

 We will talk about this virus and see the raging toll it has made but the real virus, the real epidemic will always be the invisibility that we endure, the invisibility that puts us in the shadows, the invisibility that makes us vulnerable, the invisibility that lets us know that we don’t exist to the world. The invisibility that not only make us the one of the highest risks because of health issues that are never really talked about. We remain the hidden in the shadows, where we can be destroyed and where we will be, just another Indian dead.   

 At the end of this week two daughters and a grandchild must figure out how to maintain their sorrow so they can go on and try not to be invisible in the chaos of burying a mother. They will now belong to that special club that none of us want to be part of and that is saying goodbye to a mother and grandmother.  They will no longer look at the sky the same, hear a song with the same joy or watch a sunset without feeling grief. Many will remember this time in history and know that they got through it but they, will not. They will only remember losing their mother. A grandchild will only remember losing her grandmother. She will no longer feel that touch of a grandmother’s kiss, that unconditional understanding smile that a grandmother has, that certain shine of joy when she walks in the room. To our grandmothers we are their memory and legacy just because we were born to be their grandchild. For these young women she will be the voice not heard ever again, the laughter silenced, a human being torn from the earth and the song on mute. She will be more than, just another Indian dead.  How many grandmothers have to die? How many language keepers must we lose? How many song keepers must be gone? How many more statistics do we have to have before we are visible  enough to the world outside of our communities so it can no longer be, Just Another Indian Dead!  

 The wind howls and sings tonight in the city streets, against the window panes while the dark entity that is this pandemic sails through and slices love ones. Tonight in the wind I hear the sound of those that came before me that prayed and warned of these hard luck times as my own grandmother called it.   I go to prepare for the morning, I think of my grandmother as I listen to the silence of the darkness outside of my window. I remember when she told me about the past and what has happened to us as a people, our family,  the hard luck times when an epidemic almost killed her entire family.  In our DNA we remember when this has happened to us so many times, the lost number of death, we are reliving it once again, remembering in the splinter of our minds when we had to bury our dead alone because there was no one left to stand with us.

  A mother and grandmother will be taken to her homeland this week, she will be flown out to go back to that place to rest with her ancestors in the land she longed for in North Dakota. You will not see her name in the newspaper or this Sunday’s special pandemic edition.  You will not see her face on television as a causality of this virus. She will not be talked about in the mainstream media. She with many other Native Peoples who will be buried this week are invisible.  She will remain in the memory of her daughters and grandchildren that loved her, she will not fade to them, she will not be invisible to them and she never was. She was a human being that lived and loved and tried to keep her head above water for her daughters and grandchildren.  She will not be forgotten to them.  But for the rest of the world that did not know her? Will she be listed with the millions who have perished before her, 500 years ago? Let’s hope and pray that she and many others that leave us during this hard luck time, who will not be listed or remembered in history as, just another Indian dead.   

This is dedicated to Victoria Yellow Wolf Tarrant, Tyree Giruoux and to all our brothers and sisters across these Native lands who are longer with us. 

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