Driving While Indian: A Refresher Course

Terri Miles

I was driving home from a night of pow wow on a backcountry road late at night. I had a kid in the car, my niece. The usual crew attending to her couldn't handle the gymnasium stairs so I was drafted to watch over her.

She was good; she made me feel useful and like a proud auntie. We were happy and joking because she won second place cloth dancing.

The radio was playing some excellent oldies and I wondered if she ever heard these artists? I was anticipating meat baked from the coals of my cousin's campfire and my niece couldn't wait to announce her win.

It was a beautiful night out with unusually cool air. July in Stroud, Oklahoma? No way! Full stop at the railroad crossing, smooth acceleration, and we're off cruising down the road, my favorite place to be. Should be back in 10ish minutes. 

A car I didn't see until he flashed his headlights at me was parked on the opposite side of the road, which confused me for a second. Is this some weirdo I'm going to have to deal with? Damn. I left my gun home on purpose because there are no weapons allowed on our tribe’s land.

I'll just have to handle the situation. Wait, I have a kid in the car. How do I protect us both? I have no problem fighting for myself, but I have to make sure my tactics allow her the least possible damage. 

And then the bubble lights go on. Oh shit! What the hell? What the fuck was I doing wrong that gets me stopped? I know my headlights are both operational. Couldn't have run my plates; besides, I have nothing on record. I made a full stop at that railroad crossing. I wasn't swerving. I am not black. I'm not really dark, despite public consensus that I'm not white…oh...the powwow. 

I immediately pulled over, turned my hazards on, finished rolling down the window, shut the radio off, turned the car off and then I had that moment thinking I had made too many moves. I put my hands on top of the wheel and froze, thankful I had left my gun at home.

I looked at my niece, smiled, groaned, and rolled my eyes to reassure her, but hoped that she too remained still without me having to tell her, without having to scare her by saying, “Don't make any sudden moves.” 

I turned my head to watch him slide up the side of my car with his hand on his gun. I watched him through the side mirror as he shined his light held in his left hand into my passenger windows looking for danger, looking for a reason to go defcon 5 and I felt that anticipation of fear. How is this going to play out? Do we look harmless enough? I had a kid in the car. 

Anger filled my gut and I wanted to get smart with him. I wanted to ask why are you ruining our night? What the hell was I doing so bad that you had to stop us? Why are you out here in the middle of nowhere looking for Indians to pull over? Because, trust me, that's what this was about. I had to bite my tongue. I couldn't be me. I had a kid in the car. 

He asked that stupid question. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

"No" (Not really, aside from the fact that y'all are out here to try and catch a bunch of Indians either drinking or who have warrants.) Turns out I was speeding. I learned later that all roads in Stroud are 25 miles per hour, even the empty back ones. I proceeded to obey orders and seethed. I had a kid in the car. 

He went back with my license and I seethed some more. I explained to my niece why this sucked. He came back, tried to do small talk, and I couldn't banter with him like I normally do.

I got family members who are cops, were cops, and in my younger years I wanted to be a cop to protect and to serve. But this...made my blood boil. Not the time; I have a kid in my car. 

I didn't say anything smart to escalate the situation, just waited for him to tell me what to do with my hands still on the wheel. I had a kid in the car. 

He passed my license back to me, wished me a nice time for the rest of my stay and walked away. I turned my car back on and slowly made our way back to safe territory.

The kid was stoked about getting pulled over for the first time.

Terri Miles is a Muscogee (Creek) citizen, Sac & Fox family member, and Seminole descendant. Born and raised in Chicago, she moved to Bloomington in 2006 to pursue a Ph.D. in criminal justice. She volunteered at, held various offices with, and created programming for NAGSA and FNECC. She currently works for a social service agency in Bloomington. 


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