READ INDIGENOUS: A Really Good Brown Girl

Winner of the 1997 Gerald Lampert Award and now in its 15th (!) printing, Marilyn Dumont’s A Really Good Brown Girl (Brick Books) is a defiant collection of poetry about what it means to be Métis in Canada. Today’s featured poem, “Letter to Sir John A. MacDonald”, embodies Dumont’s fierce, courageous voice and what Lee Maracle had to say in the foreword of the Classics edition: “No other book so exonerates us, elevates us and at the same time indicts Canada in language so eloquent it almost hurts to hear it.”


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From A Really Good Brown Girl by Marilyn Dumont (Brick Books 2016, first published 1996)

Dear John: I’m still here and halfbreed,
after all these years
you’re dead, funny thing,
that railway you wanted so badly,
there was talk a year ago
of shutting it down
and part of it was shut down,
the dayliner at least,
‘from sea to shining sea,’
and you know, John, after all that shuffling us around to suit the settlers,
we’re still here and Métis.
We’re still here
after Meech Lake and
one no-good-for-nothin-Indian
stalling the ‘Cabin syllables / Nouns of settlement,
/… steel syntax [ and ] / The long sentence of its exploitation’
and John, that goddamned railroad never made this a great nation,
cause the railway shut down
and this country is still quarreling over unity,
and Riel is dead
but he just keeps coming back
in all the Bill Wilsons yet to speak out of turn or favour
because you know as well as I
that we were railroaded
by some steel tracks that didn’t last
and some settlers who wouldn’t settle
and it’s funny we’re still here and callin ourselves halfbreed.
* * *

The Author

Marilyn’s first collection, A Really Good Brown Girl, won the 1997 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.  This collection is now in its fifteenth printing and has been reprinted as a Brick Books classic with a forward by Lee Maracle. Her second collection, green girl dreams Mountains, won the 2001 Stephan G. Stephansson Award from the Writer’s Guild of Alberta. Her third collection, that tongued belonging, was awarded the 2007 Anskohk Aboriginal Poetry Book of the Year and the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year. The Pemmican Eaters, her fourth collection, won the 2015 Stephan G. Stephansson Award. Marilyn has been the Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library, the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto-Massey College, Windsor University, Brandon University and Grant MacEwan.   She is Associate professor at the University of Alberta in the Faculties of Arts and Native Studies.* * * Remember: buy A Really Good Brown Girl or any of our READ INDIGENOUS books and get this stunning limited-run tote bag featuring colourful artwork from Indigenous visual artists Kaya Joan, Alan Syliboy, Dawn Oman, and Lauren Crazybull until November 15th (while supplies last). And don’t forget to check out today’s other READ INDIGENOUS feature, Witness I Am