White Saviors Are Never Around When I Need a Jar Opened

Terese Mailhot

The problem with white saviors isn’t necessarily that they’re paternalistic, or dumb, it’s mostly that they aren’t dependable. Where is my white savior when I want a jar opened? Ultimately, if you give a white person too much power as an ally they will betray you.

Look at Johnny Depp; we lauded him as our next Marlon Brando, only to find he didn’t buy Wounded Knee like he promised, and he recently debuted a fragrance called “Sauvage” for Dior. You can’t trick us with your French, Johnny; the name is synonymous with ‘savage,’ not to mention your add had a buffalo, a hawk, and a coyote. Did you really need all three? If Marlon Brando could see you now, he’d send an Indian out to explain allusion and implication to you.

I really liked The Revenant. I did. Whether the protagonist was a white savior or an anti-hero is debatable. Unfortunately, Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the Golden Globes was a little too much. I mentioned in earlier work that if an ally wants to help us they should fall back let us speak our own voices. There are plenty of ways to give First Nations people a platform or recognition, but there’s too much irony to be had in giving them a shout out while the wrap-up music plays at an award show. The awards don’t care about diversity. DiCaprio is speaking on behalf of a people while he should go out of his way to create a legitimate platform for Natives to speak, where legitimate concerns aren’t rushed by music or cheering entertainers, who are possibly the worst people, period. I really hope not, but Leonardo could be the next Johnny to break our hearts.

White saviors just aren’t there for the long haul. I recently sat on a panel of up-and-coming Native writers at the Institute of American Indian Arts, called, “Native and Not: Defining Our Program and Finding Ways to Talk and Listen,” and we all went through the motions of explaining to the non-Native students how to be culturally sensitive: don’t cry when we call you racist, because we don’t want to babysit your white guilt; you don’t need to know everything about our culture in order to respect us as people, etc.

The discussion felt empowering, because, for the first time, Native students at our school were able to discuss in a public forum how difficult it is to be tokenized, objectified, and mined for information. The good feelings didn’t last long, because apparently white people were so upset with the panel that they asked for an “all white meeting,” excluding Native students for what purpose, I still don’t know. I immediately objected, saying if Non-Natives had a problem they should take it to my face, because I’m a rez girl at heart and I only saw red. Only when a white man stepped in to object to the meeting did the facilitator nix it, and that’s when I understood. Even at a Native institution like the Institute of American Indian Arts, there was still much to be learned in the way of discourse and cultural empathy. The man who objected to the meeting was white, but not a savior, merely an intelligent man who saw how asinine an all-white meeting sounded. Really, I could have used a white savior like Kevin Costner that day, to yell out a war cry and call for lunch.

I’m just saying be careful out there. There are a lot of white people with great intentions, who’ve seen Dances with Wolves a few times and think they know what they’re doing. Don’t trust them, because when you need your oil changed, or your grocer won’t redeem a coupon you were really excited about, they won’t be there. We’re on our own at every turn. We’re the only ones who can speak our truth, and no matter how charming DiCaprio is, we want a Native to win a Golden Globe and speak on their life. I’d say it’s time for that, but the world isn’t ready.

It’s sad, but nobody is going to open the jar for us, not in discourse or in politics.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Indian Band. She has been featured in Carve magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, and Burrow Press Review. She’s a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts and she is an SWAIA Discovery Fellow.

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tmsyr11's picture
We knew this growing up as children, i.e. 1970s. There were still many nahlees and cheiis living who told us: to get up before dawn-to be at home before dark, to shake hands, to get up and talk, to know your family, to perform chores, to ask, etc. We were whipped, spanked, disciplined, etc. Self-responsibilty and self-taught virtues to carry into life and work. It was a hard life and by progressive standards today, this is short of child abuse, child explotation, child concerns. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> We never "understood" nor took to heart the latest fad or craze "rights" as expressed by progressive-types. We appreciated seeing and hearing of news/word from the outside world, i.e. Cali, East Coast, etc. We probably dreamed even of someday joining. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> But in my own view and (interpretation later in life), it was good and worthwhile to have taken these…influences lightly….where it later served in distinguishing what is right and what is not good. I only feel for my children as they cannot see nor explore what is right and what is not good. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Until native, indigenous, first nations, tribal, indian, turtle, red, enrolled, registered, member PEOPLES step up and take individual responsiblity and hold their families accountable, then "native" enrolled or non-enrolled will continue (abetted) to WAIT and HOLD THEIR BREATH for the next 'white' savior or 'white' ideologue. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> From talks and discussions with true legit tribal ppls. (not those in Starbuck coffehouses or Teavana shops), football mascots and clothing designers aren't even on the blip for obvious concerns, or living challenges. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Indian peoples have "saviors" but these "endian" activists are off chasing and barking at pick-up trucks that drive with stickers on the bumper trucks. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The Greatest Generation (nahlees and cheiis inclusive) lived their lives and demonstrated their accomplishments by the basis which we still rely on as achievements and success (dilapidated and weary, 40 years later). They encountered issues as blatent racism and discrimination and unfairness, etc, - but they didn't dwell on it! >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> With as BAD as the endian activists proclaim, how do people explain then unending flow of migrants - illegal, refugees, wanting 'citizenship' 'ownership' to their RIGHTS as Americans (legal or illegal)? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> An opportunity maybe, and making the most of it to be the next "savior" for "endian" peoples?
Sammy7's picture
Therese, I do enjoy reading your thought provoking words. No doubt too you have a mental brightness and nimbleness that I cannot match. Too, in this time of Flower, respect for our Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, and Daughters is to be encouraged. I have no answers to the cultural black out of Indian voices, but merely an observation that may be helpful along the road. I am taught not to debate, but to just state my view as a part of the greater mix. I see it as my responsibility. Peoples of Indian Nations seem to have the perspective that their voices are the true voices of Indian Country. They defend that belief with vigorous debate and the denunciation of those who do not fit that construct. There are other Indian people, on Turtle Island, who are outside that strict definition. These too are Indian People. Resulting from historic trauma, their paths have been different than those who have lived as Indian on federally recognized reservations and territories. Their paths are neither understood or accepted by citizens of Indian nations. These outlanders, urban Indians, are cast as wannabees, and pretendians at best, and cultural thieves at worst. Just as Tribal voices are blacked out by Whites, these urban/outlander voices are blacked out by Tribes. For whatever reason, and there are many, these urban and outlander Indian voices too have been suppressed by our own peoples. We have grown up feeling the great hostility toward us, yet, we are Indian. We have culture, some language, a local Indian community, blood, and grounds for ritual and ceremony. We are not Powwow Indians. Our lifeways are those of our ancestors, some ancient, and others more modern. We have grown up in the cauldron of White culture yet have rejected it. Despite being lumped in with the true pretendians, we are Indian and exist as Indian inside the bubble of White culture. We are independent people not dependent upon the government or Tribes. We too are still here. I believe that we are the bridge that leads to Indian voices being heard, other than feathers and fluff. We hold responsible positions within the White world and have access to and the trust of many influential White people. Having a foot in both worlds, we are better positioned to understand the pathways to the elimination of the blackout of our voices. We are wise enough too, to know that we cannot successfully proceed with divided voices. So I answer as follows: Tribal Peoples are not yet ready to speak for themselves; nor do I believe they will be until the split between urban/outlander and tribal peoples are mended and we proceed as one respectful Indian voice. We are the bridge you have been looking for. Get to know us.
WSullivan's picture
To Sammy7, there is another bridge, which is the deep realization that we are one humanity - not as an intellectual theory, but as an actuality.
Michael Madrid's picture
Thank you for your kind words, Sammy7. Ethnic-NDNs put up with prejudice from BOTH sides! It's a shame that we're shunned by full-bloods and neglected by Whites (until they need someone to discriminate against). We fight for Native rights and have nothing to show for it. We're discriminated against just like the full bloods, but reap no benefits. We care about how Native elders are treated and the tribulations of Native children, but we get no credit for our concerns. I think it's time that full-blood Natives see the allies they have in ethnic-NDNs (most of us have dark skin and eyes just like you do) an embrace our friendship. I grew up in the 1950s and can't remember when I HAVEN'T suffered from NDN stereotypes.
Michael Madrid
Michael Madrid's picture
Is Sarah Palin in here? I thought I heard a disjointed word salad somewhere?
Michael Madrid
Colleen M. Johnson's picture
Terese, I will open your jars for you. Mainly because I'm a badass jar opener. Not a peanut butter or jam jar can resist my technique. (Off topic, but I couldn't resist....)
Colleen M. Johnson
WhiteManWanting's picture
Terese, please just don't forget that some of "us" are not out to be your saviors, nor do we want power or influence. Sincere mutual friendship and increased understanding is all that's sought. And for at least some of us, those desires come from an incomplete sense of appreciation that there is something valuable there that we do not understand, that we do not know enough about - and would like to. THOSE kinds of friends will come over and open jars for you - even at inconvenient times - and be comfortable knowing you'd reciprocate, not out of a sense of obligation, but simply because that's what friends do. That kind of friendship comes out of mutual respect, a desire to learn, with no thought of power or gain. The rich and famous didn't get where they are without stepping on anyone that wasn't useful to them - and that's why some of "us" would not trust them either. Please do not write all of "us" off because we don't share the "right" genetic landscape.
Jerry Davis's picture
Yes, there is a reason why us white people aren't there for Indians. It's because we are white people, not Indians. A person needs to be born and raised in Indian culture to be an Indian. Same for black people, Mexicans, and other Indian wannabe's. Apologies to all you white (and other) people out there who think it is enough to "feel" Indian. It's not. You can still be helpful, however, but only if Indians don't mind.
Jerry Davis
WinterWindTeacher's picture
I agree with you. They do not seem to be the adaptable or evolving type. They give me the feeling of death, it's more than a feeling, it is a strong sense of no live. I could not trust any. It was difficult to tell the difference between when they were lying and when they were saying something truthful, is so intertwined I would guess. I did find trust with a race horse though. He was absolutely dangerous in that he hated all people and wanted to kill anyone and threatened to constantly finely catching one man and dragging him into the stall, the man managed to escape. I am no expert of anything, but I thank the spirit for helping me to think carefully before I went into his stall. I knew if I tried to protect myself he would see me exactly as everyone else and I could barely hope to escape his rage. I realized I would have to show him my truth, I would have to surrender myself to him and the decision would be his. I touched him gently, I was afraid and did not know what he would think. I never betrayed him. I never made fun of him or talked down about him. I genuinely cared for him and I wanted to take his anger away. I wanted him to be well. I could not heal his wounds of being abused by others but he accepted my truth and I am happy that my truth meant something to a living being in this world, because it meant little if anything to people. White people seem to have an addiction to murder and have successfully passed that trait onto others. They are devouring this planet, it could not survive their need to destroy so much. I hope I could never need to be born into a world of theirs again. The White people wanted me murdered by 8 months old. It was nothing short of a miracle to have existed so long. In the end they have succeeded to murder my life. Altogether they took the majority of my life from me and I can not think of any reason why I was born but simply to be murdered by their greed. My childhood, youth, middle age and now senior years have been engulfed by their sadistic perverted narcissistic all important ignorance. Their justifiable homicidal viciousness gave them more pleasure than the return of any season. Every time they said some cruel evil thing they were honoring themselves by cutting down humanity. They squealed with glee just to shoot people up. Natural enough that human being is their enemy, and love and truth. I am sure that many could not wish to care. I feel sad for all their destructive needs. Perhaps there is a virus out there that targets their D.N.A - specifically and wipes them out. They were a useless species who devoured everything, inflicting their lie they forced a true reality and life to disappear, so they could be king, emperor over all life, enslaved and entombed. I pray that I will never live in a world where they are, for that world is a hell. If there were any alien in the universe it had to be them; anti human, anti life, anti liberty, anti truth, anti Christ, demon fiends. I would do as much, if the wind were to ask me what should be done, I would take the responsibility for it and ask the wind to blow them off of North America, their weapons, their laboratory's, their government buildings, institutions, freeways, overpasses, every absurd construction they laid here and there to take the robbery but not the crime. I give them measure for measure all their crimes multiplied as trophies for them to smirk at all the day long. A diabolical people who never made sense. How glad I am that life cared, life was all there was to reach out to. What an absurd show they put on celebrating their vicious evil cruel. How they could rob, murder, lie and make life a mockery. I detest their cruelty, release life to stampede and trample them into the dust. How easy it was for them to smash life, love, happiness and dreams. How easy murder was for them. How I wished they would have pushed me to my death at 8 months than to have looked upon their hideous cruelty for decades, sickening monsters. I have the right to denounce the rapists, perverts ripping me apart from the earliest age. I was to be saved for their ripping fun. Justice is to never look on them again,to hear their ugly tongue, to never know anything of them ever. Dirty people who shit death on the world. Death shitter a reality of Beast. "They made me die, bless them Father for everything but not me, never with them ever.