Native Butterflies by Jessica Helen Brant at

Native Butterflies

Native Butterflies

written by: Jessica Helen Brant



I, the Native
through a sun-streaked window
at a billion dollar research university
from the third floor of a building
I gasp for air
or a way out
thinking one of many
feels a lot like one of few
because I am both

I, The Native
passing white
passing Mohawk
ambiguously ambiguous
walk through a courtyard
built on Haudenosaunee land
let the Long Island girls
trample my anxiety
shroud me in stares
and a smoke-filled haze
from the Newports
they flick my way
they think I am one in the same,
a human ashtray,
but I grind the remains
into the sidewalk
so I don’t catch flame
like the remains
of my ancestors
attempting rest
beneath my veins

I, The Native
watch the boys with their sports
they run in tribes
but can’t spell the name of mine,
so I flashback to a time
when the kids
from my social studies classes
confuse Crazy Horse
for a death metal band
and Sitting Bull
for a character in a movie
I let them assume
that fry bread
was an appetizer at TGI Fridays
I sat silent, confused,
Sad for them, sad for I

I, the Native
sit among full-blooded Natives
at the research university,
watch them inspect my skin
see the white privilege
I’m coated in
and the Coach bag I just carried in
which will be passed down
to my next of kin
instead of the stories
their brothers tell in prison
or the fights
they have with their wives,
spawned by a faulty system
what about the stories
of their sisters trying to keep
their children fed
while the outside world sucks down
mimosas at brunches
and they can’t scrape up $4 for bread
what about the stories
of the funny looks
the cashiers give them when
they say they are tax exempt
what an inconvenient truth it is
to punch in nine numbers
to save a few cents
wouldn’t it be wonderful
if we could all
Just punch in nine numbers
punch in nine numbers
To save us sense?

The newer building I live in
was built on cleared land
through a non-native decision
in non-native hands,
scatterings of forest
still exist for the deer
who come curiously
through patches
of fear,
while the Native’s right to land
is bulldozed over,
and the bone crushing
snaps the soul
like a cedar board
split asunder
plated under the fish
they helped us all to catch
revisited in a History Channel
series Falltober event
but the Native deserves more
than a month in November
devoted only to a hollow casing
of artifacts remembered
what about the
the droves of women and
men and activists
protecting their sacred
religions, their sacred
relics, their sacred
laws of environment
all night and day, winter,
spring, and summer?
What do we say to them?
That we simply didn’t
have the time to listen?
That it was easier to let
the big corps steal
the fruit of our deer
To give to their employees,
in the transfer of dirty money,
a non-verbal diss, and
a tactical sneer?

I, the Native
know that non-Natives
think I speak too softly,
or that I’m socially shut in
while I stand here
neither modern enough
nor traditionalist enough
neither strong enough
nor afraid enough
to fit in
and I allow the professor
to point a laser
at my forehead
she makes me an example
because I checked
the “Native American” box
in the ethnic section
of a survey sample
my authenticity must be proven
in front of an audience of people
who believe that they are 1/19th Native
because their great grandmothers
are a sliver of Cherokee
I let them do it, let them have it—
I know what it feels like–
being a part of something
Is better than nothing at all
makes us feel closer,
and not as small

Still, I struggle with being seen,
can they sense the urgency in me?
can they see that I, the Native
am on an insecurity loop
about how much I don’t
really know about
my people?
And how much I wish
I didn’t know
About the greater
There are so many others
who feel like me
except they’re out there
fighting for a better
quality of life
they have bigger fish to fry
than identity crises
they maintain just to struggle
they maintain to survive
and suddenly
my survivor’s guilt kicks in
and the water pools
this boat I’m in
time to sink or swim

I am not choosing wokeness
the wokeness chooses me
a life of volition
and integrity
to direct the hive mind
toward a new and
conscious condition
and they will absorb me
the good, the bad
the human
I want to be one of the few
who speak for many,
to speak on
the lives my ancestors
hoped to live
and the lives those living
are trying to make plenty
through the pacifist’s stories
and the activist’s art
and the spiritualist’s mind
in a three piece orchestra
of the heart

The costumed inspection
of the Native
the silent imprisonment
the hush hush benevolence
the blissful ignorance
is erasing the Native
from the outside in
but I know we have to keep
choosing to be visible
not to tug,
but take reign
of the heartstrings
we use to play society’s
broken violin

On this violin
I tell the world to unlearn us
and reteach the world how to see us
how we want to be seen
with fresh eyes,
and an abundance of color,
and for the half and halves like me,
who hold strong to our identities
who can swim between both
worlds, adding perspective
with each stroke,
educating and speaking up
at every opportunity
so the existence of a people
is not reduced
to basket weavings
on the side of the road
or cigarette runs
to the rez
the only places some people
still think
those stories are ever told

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