My standard response - Karenne underwood
“There is an understanding that you feel like you should be able to speak [the language] and be able to communicate, not only with your ancestors in a prayerful and spiritual way, but also with the creator and the geographic formations that surround you in your homeland,” Wood explains. “Those were all very important entities historically [for the Monacans], so what do you do when you’ve lost that? And does that affect your own sense of identity … who you are in relation to your people, past and present?”
Karenne Wood’s poem uses humour to highlight the absurdity of using identity to pigeonhole communities. Speaking as an insider, and one who has explored the ambiguities of loss of language, colonisation by white Americans and even the subsequent wokeness of many “liberal” americans, who brush off decades of history with some half-informed patronised commentary, Wood’s manner is brusque and conversational. Her poetry reflects the importance of excavating language - looking for values, cultural codes and bias within words and normalised articulation.
The sentiment “So. How much Indian are you?” is not an uncommon one in this country either (Yes, when I read the first line of this poem..even I smiled wryly, being a different kind of “Indian”). We have different ways of articulating this sentiment. Our dear prime minister talks of how the ones who are “creating violence can be identified by their clothes. So many slurs in our country are based on caste and religious affiliation. It is important to call out such veiled references, to excavate the reality of vitriol behind these comments. Wood’s poem reminds us to think deeply about the ways in which we look at others, and the entitlement with which we appropriate their identities in self-righteous swoops.