About two years ago I took a Canadian Native studies course in my final year of high school. One of our assignments was to research an Indigenous artist and showcase some of their work. Most people gravitated towards visual artists such as painters, yet of course, I was drawn towards a poet. I had the pleasure of exploring Rebecca Thomas’s work, and even received a lovely reply when I emailed her about it all. As a Mi’kmaq woman, she has much experience with identity, cultural appropriation, and oppression, which is the topic of most of her poetry. Specifically, the one I’ve chosen to share with everyone today focuses on the false image of Pocahontas that Western culture has portrayed for decades. Without further ado, please enjoy September’s Poem of the Month!
Matoax by Rebecca Thomas
“It was all a lie.
I was appropriated as Disney’s racist alibi,
They plucked me as a girl out of history, and without ever mentioning my tribe
They made into a woman whose only worth was to keep John Smith alive,
An event that was completely contrived
It was all a lie.
All the while Jamestown and the crown
They converted my kin to cover their sin
They made the world believe in
Pilgrims, patriots and heathens,
And I was left with my whitewashed skin,
Brought back to life to make the leaves spin and
My people were left to paint a future with the bleached out colours of the wind.
In order to protect me, my community kept my real name shrouded in secrecy,
In your fairy tale,
I went from preteen, to sixteen, to baptism and Christianity,
All the while my people continued to bleed.
Nobody knows that my name is Matoax,
But everyone is familiar with the stories of blankets and small pox,
They love our style, “Native Inspired”, they rock our mocs, using feathers for props, buying Urban Outfitter Smudge kits for fifty dollars a pop.
But there, your interests stops
No one asks about the high way of tears,
The hunger walks,
Racial Integrity Laws? Nobody balks. Because everyone knows,
If you want to be an Indian princess, forget the culture that needs to be sought,
it just takes one drop.
Kidnapped and held at a ransom for swords and guns,
I was raped but oral history is so easily undone,
My people were given booze and were racially shunned,
I had a daughter, a life,
I was married to Kocuom!
Something my full length feature film decided was too much of a plot conundrum
So they had him killed off and made no mention of my abduction.
My sequel had me ditch Smith for Rolfe in Holy matrimony,
That other husband?
A pop culture memory, just a savage phony.
This marriage counted,
By the grace of God and all his glory,
It is here at least some good came out of my story.
I never spoke about my feelings for Rolfe, though they say he loved me so,
Our union brought peace to my people and to his,
Literal boatloads of money from stolen fields of tobacco.
The spin given in England,
Was that I was the perfectly civilized Indian,
That could hand over your perception of a kingdom,
But behind your back, my jingle dress is jingling.
On my way home I died from pneumonia or pox or tuberculosis,
And sadly, my history learned via osmosis,
By frat girls in red face striking Native poses.
The bones of my people are buried in America’s closet, mine is just a bonus.
So many holes
Your lessons are built on history’s osteoporosis.
The reality is this:
The English only wanted to flaunt us,
Their history still continues to abuse and haunt us,
You don’t even know my real name.
You only know me as Pocahontas.”
If you wish to read more of Rebecca Thomas’s work, find her on Facebook and Twitter.