Charlotte Henay

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Artist Statement

This piece is intended as a collection of experiences, images, words, and re-membrances connected to being and becoming Indigenous. As a mixed–race Black Indigenous womon in exile, I story in thinking about Black and Native relations in the Americas, local and diasporic. I speak, too, about water, keepers of water and drowning. I have dreamt my mother resurfacing from underneath turquoise salt only to be dragged down again. There doesn’t seem to be any logical or reasoned place to start, other than where I am, which becomes the beginning. In being and becoming Indigenous, living and embodying re-surgence, re-membering and re-storying, the ongoing conversations with my mother, ones I could only have with her after her death, are barometer and compendium. Only in the journey back is there any coherence in the whatcomesnext to the work of living into the story without shame, so that I can continue to tell it; so that others like me can tell their own. I am concerned with what sparks the debate about who is Indigenous, to which place, belonging, and then, nationhood. There’s no accident to the realization that the more I learn about being and becoming Indigenous, the more I realize how little I know. The discourse of extinction is insidious, powerful, and thriving. It’s an ironic position to be, in-between, when who you are is so intimately involved with what you do.

I find a requirement of this work is suspending the need to be certain, paradoxical in a world of scholarly theorizing and supported statements. Indigenous scholars/tellers, are expected, in academe, to back it up, explain our perceptions, theories and conclusions. Indigenous Methodologies re-story our intuitions. Still we fight the perception that these same knowings, ineffable and refusing quantification, are wannabe reconstructions of a disappeared past. I have always been interested in untold stories and entirely alienable hidden truths.

The wind is howling outside. I have to struggle with it to remember. Moments ago the thought was at my fingertips, waiting for the page. Erased before it found breath. Absence is prevalent in this work, a function of existing on the peripheries of essentialized understandings of land, place, nation, Indigeneity, and Blackness, A feature of in-between that is wholly here and justwhoIamnow. My mother was the truth-teller in our family. She hinted at painful secrets, talked about obscured origins, left out the details. My thoughts and ancestral connections are scattered across continents and generations. I collect these stories, here, to reach back into a tribalography (Howe 2002, 29). Mothers’ re-search has become so much more than an analysis of today and what we read of how we got here, rather it’s a re-construction, feminist, Indigenous, mine, ours. In the process of navigating what is understood as Creole Indigeneity my stories pay attention to how being and becoming catch us up in our own webs, ogre-faced spiders waiting to drop an inextricable weaving on the unsuspecting, each other.

Works Cited

Howe, LeAnne. “The Story of America: A Tribalography.” In Clearing a Path: Theorizing the Past in Native American Studies. Nancy Shoemaker, Ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.




The Road to Letting Go

when i first lit the sweetgrass i was lazy
smudge bowl littered with leftover prayers and whispered conversations
matches and ash
it’s cold outside can’t see the base of the tree cushioning my falls from grace
briefly smoking ceremony protests reticence
begin anew speaks the wind in a language i do not remember

what to keep what to throw away strategic decisions made in ship holds
cast aside decolonizing moves that pimp peoples in fetishized re-collections of desires re-settle re-inhabit re-package re-move
traces of indigenousness the only good indian
dis-appear in homo-gene-eye-ity my self
determination dis-engages with piecemeal cobbling of methodologies and alliances creeping up on
you in a rhetoric of in-collusion
give back my belief in this waste-land along with that moral rectitude
in my hunger for the past i encounter my ancestors they name me stranger

decolonizing is an English word
inextricable bonds between means and ends ask me
when have i ever felt safe
implications of both question and answer bear the stickiness of
my insides draped across my head and through my hair
how will we recognize ourselves in this garb who will we become spitting
images of forced negotiations questioning the imposition of
colonial histories on our communities

my mother’s specter rises from the ocean springing forth in a spray of turquoise and salt, eyes open she is talking to me
though i can’t hear her she is frustrated she can’t get my attention it’s important why was i never a listener? i hear her
voice calling me from nether parts of the house when i am alone
chaudy cha-u-ddddyyy chaaaaaaudyyyy shoddy

makeshift booty refusing to stay buried bodies hefted
into the channel
can it be about mothers and not mothering
this taking apart of the pieces of my soul repair them make them whole living
into the story
is this how i am to remember
bridges scare me clench teeth squeeze eyes shut unnatural seeing spirit
called to meet when we listen to you my voice
is not always my own




Where do I Begin

miscegenated into dominance
craving childhood reminiscence
glue repels
worn out
even my own veins are anathema
they itch on the inside
i can see them stretched out over continents and honeycomb rock
beach ocean building
limestone stair
pulsing over canopy beds and louvered windows
in their imaginary absence i feel the ache
nostalgic of a lost limb
i want to toy with
the stump of my identity before i am snuffed out
into extinction
recognition and repair for stitched arteries leak into the in between

time space place
mothers’ land-ed periwinkle ackee johnny cake
flickering across world views
is a wake
for my grandmothers
they come
when i call
nighttime vigil for my child wrapped in bright made from anguish
transmuted hatreds
bred into coffee
set aside the gin
in a heartbeat
burn for spirit
breathe for mothers
is there another story for me in there?
sick handed down
healing policing ourselves so industrious we are relieved
even of our own agency
i ride bitch alongside my own freedom wordsajumbleofprogress in my
mouth teeth unbound i come to meltdown
silver shackles
molten anger and memory
i want
those trees and degrees very badly
bags of Bacardi caps and beetle runs no exception
to the craving that has powe-red
this reconstruction resurgence becoming
i don’t need you
to tell me this is my
i recognize it on the death certificate

i have never lived
Arawak Pequot Taino Creek Seminole ways spinning
through blue holes lickuhduhtarbrussssssh
waiting under water eyes open
fish hitches onto my hips i don’t see
the barracuda
the only recourse is to
scamper leaping snagged propeller
bleeds diluted ancestry into salt
uncle not my uncle spear his only companion down down down no breath
dancing with our mother for dinner
trailing fingers in night sea skimmed by hungry mouths
yellowtail come up
gone disappeared by the tickle beneath my fingers over gunwales
rocked by waves
snatched back i cradle what’s left
my cousin swims with sharks
guffaws at my foreign sensibilities

almost went back but for intergenerational manferrence
hisfatherandmymother gave a whole new meaning to us callineachudduhsistabruddah
affairs marred by cockroaches and vegas showgirls widely available
be-come home legacy insufficient to repatriate
me singlehandedly caught tossed fruit drove drunken revels home to gunpoint encounters
under lamplight and thought this was ancestral
practice well
by that time
that’s what we had left
my mother capers beneath liquid
merciless thieves of our children’s bones
you can drink these finite ripples in a land where i keep
dogs’ and white folks’ secrets
swallow the lost
escapees diasporic neocolonial self-mutilating
nation states hand over heart we are all
punishing each other believe it
is a form of love
will my hands cramp with arthritis jagged with dysplasia tongue twisted
with acculturation and appropriation
soaked in an inland sea of lies
genetically marked into authenticity on landscapes of souls spill that milk don’t touch each other love each other know each other
sever rightfromthegetgo
ancestry to cut your teeth on
that looks lovely

i watched that bird flip broken wing longer than i could bear
couldn’t leave it
couldn’t help it
called in a rescuer
provided a box
cold as shit why daydream about faraway folks who look like me smell like me
come on
brown emergent from purulent chrysalis no iridescence here
it’s a bat
looks like a moth
excruciating stretching wet
wings spitted roasting someone lickitup
there’s a piece stuck
your teeth

eyes close
hold my belly
trees fall spirit walkers culled not indigenous
decisions made by creole bankers developers citizens
related to me by choices some others made now
i understand what she meant
said she came to realize she lives in a black country
home not her own since she don’t belong
the way they say we ought to since she won’t crawl
into the skin they’ve stretched out for us
a moulted remnant of my-the-ological proportions
can i get an amen


Charlotte Henay is a mother, teacher, writer, storyteller and researcher. She works to counter Indigenous extinction myths through storywork and lyric scholarship, Indigenous methodologies, and re-membering. Charlotte writes about cultural memory and grandmothers’ gardens as an activist for (de)colonial, Indigenous, and Afro-futurities. She has a background in critical race theory, education administration, and teaching. Charlotte’s visual art work has been shown at York University’s Crossroads Gallery and 416 Gallery for MIXEDArtTO. She received her M.Ed in Sociology and Equity in Education from OISE/University of Toronto. Charlotte has been an administrator and consultant in First Nations, mainstream and international education contexts, and is currently a Ph.D. student at York University in Language, Culture and Teaching.

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