I’m a Crazy Indian, I Guess

Terese Mailhot

I heard the term ‘crazy Indian’ a few times when I was a young girl. My cousins told me to “keep six” every time we walked into a bar, and then we ended up in a brawl where they showcased some Roadhouse moves. I called them crazy. When my cousin threw a cast iron at her boyfriend, I called her crazy. When I stabbed a man with a fork, I was called crazy. I guess those things are crazy out of context, or in context, depending on the observer. All I know is the stigma that Indians are crazy is the type of stigma white supremacy likes to see ruminate within our minds.

If crazy is being out of one’s mind, I guess, by all accounts, Natives could be crazy. We’re interconnected, not in our own minds all the time, according to the wide variety of articles I’ve found on the topic. I’m thinking about a continuum, my lineage, and the people coming after me, as I’m working, living, helping my family back home, and raising my kids within my community. I’m out of my mind, especially when I’m interacting with my environment, streamlining my home, and reducing my life down so that I can say I don’t live in excess. Crazy, right?

If crazy is mentally insane, like, clinically, it’s debatable at best. According to the research, about 70% of Natives where I’m from feel in balance when it comes to their spiritual, physical, and emotional well-beings, and those who didn’t feel in-balance were far more likely than non-Natives to seek help. Crazy, right? Not only are most of us feeling okay, but we’re willing to admit when we aren’t.

If crazy is dying by choice, then we have problems. I’ve been to a lot of funerals where someone was reckless with their life, and you’d think the family, our family, would talk about how selfish the person was for taking his life, or how thoughtless, etc, but we just talk about how lovely that person was, and we avoid the knowledge of his trauma, pain, inherited turmoil and history. We cry, but we don’t blame him, not in public. Like I said before, we’re interconnected, and speaking for myself, the daughter of a resilient woman, who was the daughter of a resilient woman, dying makes sense some days, when I know there are Indian women going missing every day, when I know there are Indian women exploited every day, when I see the trauma my brother witnessed, and nobody answered for it, because we were Indian, or when I’ve seen, at every turn, indignity towards myself and my own. It made a lot of sense when I was a girl, and I had a drunken stepfather who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and I couldn’t tell my mother, and I was ashamed it was my fault. It felt crazy to exist, when the choice felt like absolution: letting my mother be happy with her man, not being dirty, not being a burden.

It made sense during some awful times, but I’ve made a commitment to live, because I am the daughter and granddaughter of women I can’t shame, and my children, my brother, and my cousins all need me. I’m simply saying, suicide doesn’t make anyone crazy, not when one looks at the trajectory of their life and the absurdity of it all. I mean, my tribe has funding for me to go back home if there’s a funeral, but not if there’s a birth. How absurd is that?

“Keep six,” my cousins said. I thought they were crazy, ‘til a man came toward us, and I could see in his eyes he wanted to inflict pain. “Crazy Indian,” he said, when I pulled my arm out of his grip in the parking lot. “Keep six,” they said, and then the white girls called us drunken Indians for ordering a drink. I don’t go to bars back home anymore, just like I don’t like to drink in public, because they like to judge us, to keep their mind from turning inward. When my cousin threw her pan at her boyfriend, I later found out he had waited in the bushes each night as she left her job to see if she was cheating. Still not a reason to throw a pan, but then I found out he jumped out from that bush the night before, and hurt her so bad she still won’t tell me what he did. Only that it hurt, bad.

When I stabbed the man with a fork, he had violated me a few nights before, and then showed up at my door, refusing to leave. I opened it, and he walked in. I grabbed the only thing on my counter. He called me crazy and held his punctured chest as he ran to his car. I shut the door and wept, because nobody would believe me. I could only cry alone, quiet enough not to wake my son. We might be crazy, but not in the way they think. We’re simply still alive, and all that’s left to ask is why? We have the answers: for our children, our brothers and sisters, the survivors, our cousins, the man who walked around the rez, blessing people with cedar boughs, because after his stroke it was all he could do, for our grandmothers and every crazy Indian with the bravery to live, for ourselves, and whatever dream we have: mine is writing at a table, to you, telling you the truth of my life, and that I won’t stop living, no matter the pain. I can change the trajectory by simply living. They’d like to see us die, feel shame, acquiesce to the shame they’ve caused, and I refuse. I’m going to laugh tonight, in the name of the dead and the living, and all the crazies I know.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. Her work has been featured in The Offing, and Burrow Press Review. She studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts and is an SWAIA Discovery Fellow.

Links on interconnectedness:



Links on Native people feeling balance and seeking help when needed:


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AmyRitscher's picture
For what it's worth and at the risk of being flamed, I think we women need to do whatever we can to survive and if you're dubbed " a crazy Indian" then I am "a crazy White!" When you're abused for so long, something snaps and you don't take it anymore.
Raymond Wilke's picture
If crazy would not oft be used sick in you head. It means actually only to not go with the norm. But only people who don't search the balance with the nature are crazy and they need norm for sure to survive. Well I'm withe from my skin. But i think the most craziest think, my idea i like to realize. A so called "Aussteiger (escapists) commune" in the Serengeti (Since the North American Native get there own lifestyle back...) This commune will be for people saying good bye, the common life style. The commune will over the time be able by finance it self through crafts.and arts. In most possible balance with the nature. With a touch of Camelot and Utopia. (There nothing wrong with leaders, Kings, Queens... as long as there realize they may be the head - But what is a head without body.) I don't have money to finance such start and not made the paperwork (in Kenya). But I'm half down from Europe already ,now. Since i have not the money to open (start such thing) and "make" the first people come. I told the spirits if it would be possible if others would contact me who like this idea... I learned Assistant Management ok, but lonely in a block house, there you need no Management in this way. I ask my Totems to help and guide me. So some times you ask, and they tell you to wait, and get faith again. (I think they laugh at me then. Then I'm not always blessed with passion). So last year they send me a little scared lost dog, which nobody wanted. He must have had a raw time, but he brings me back to sit down again lissen to the wind, (by watching him), Yea i know you can belief me but thats because you grow up with this, but in Germany...). I get more dreams again. Where i was little and i saw red clouds, i did say one day they will lead me to the Indian where I'll life and learn how to listening to the Nature Spirits and talk to my Totems.riding through the grassland as kind of shamanic counselor. The most people are lost because they only talk to who ever they belief in but they are so in hurry in there life they have not learned to listening. I'm not perfect in this either, but my little dog now helps me in this. If he does something "wrong" i've started to look and ask me why he does it.... If you rush through you life you have m a y b e time to ask but to listening that goes for many people fare to fare. So i was thinking, i could maybe some one who can tell, of what they had no time. Then i thought cool, who will pay such "dream" Is not really a dream in real life especially, if you fight for a "second" chance for some others. even more if the other side starts to know you. Yes its real. No lies. Doe you call me crazy now to? He he you know what I forgot the name (I'm bat in remembering names). I read a prophecy of a native, he was telling about the third WW and saied after the people will find back to the nature all around the world... So i thought cool i mid have a chance just need to survive this stupid WW. Then i think (also looking through other people prophecy's, where people assemble going fare from the center meant to survive. Then again, i wait again. Now i have a feeling about you article.
Raymond Wilke
WSullivan's picture
Your powerful and deeply moving writing seems to exemplify what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in 1960: "My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive." [http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/suffering_and_faith.1.html]

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