“So let me get this straight,” I said, pausing to light a cigarette. I’d decided to take a break from my break from smoking. Something about being called in on a case in another country—one that, up until two days ago, I’d known only ambiguously as the origin of my deadbeat dad—had led me to it.


Never miss stories like this one. Sign up for our Sunday night newsletter:

“This tribe—” I said.

“The Mi’kmaq.”

“M—”

“Or, more specifically, the Mi’kmaq of the Grand River,” Marin said, interrupting in his French-accented English. He had been assigned as my liaison by the cops—the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal—which I had as much chance of pronouncing correctly as I did half the Diné words I heard back home. I was hoping I’d get a chance to shake him as my methods as a PI weren’t always above board, legally speaking.

“The Mi’kmaq, where I guess my grandmother comes from—”

“Her reserve is called Grand River,” he said, “in Maria.” He asked for a drag off my smoke. I stared at him. His blonde crew cut. Cornflower-blue eyes. Casual, near-indifferent smile. God, I missed my desk back in Albuquerque, where I could slap my black-booted feet up and feel in control.

“Sure, cowboy. Long as we get one thing straight.”

“I’m a cowboy?” he asked, chuckling. I handed him the smoke.

“Yes, a cowboy, like cowboys, who still exist where I come from.”

“Where is that?”.

“Albuquerque. You know, New Mexico. Not far from actual Mexico.”

“I see.”

“Anyway, I’m leading the way on this thing.”

“Of course, I didn’t mean to offend,” he said, handing the cigarette back.

“And I don’t like being interrupted.”

“Ah. I am sorry. It is . . . a bad habit,” he said, chuckling again. This guy was used to disarming the lady folk. And I was guessing a lot of the men folk too.

We were sitting outside a café. I’d flown in that morning. It had been a long one, and as soon as I got off the plane, I bought myself a pack of smokes. I’d called my mom before I left, of course, as soon as I got the call to investigate my grandmother’s murder. A grandmother I’d never known, thanks to a father who had left before I was born. I was going to turn it down flat. That is, until they told me the dollar amount. Enough to pay my mom’s hospital bills and then some. In between guttural, hacking coughs, my mom only repeated what she’d always said: that my dad had said he was Métis, that he’d always said he wasn’t really Indian, and that he’d looked more French than anything. That he’d disappeared and that she’d been glad to see him go. Hadn’t even told him she was pregnant, though she had put his name on my birth certificate. Which is how they’d found me.

“So you’re saying my dad isn’t Métis?” I asked.

“That is,” Marin said, pausing to gesture for a cigarette of his own, “a very complicated, political question. One I am probably not qualified to answer.”

Later, I googled. It was more complicated than my mom and I had understood. Sometimes Métis did mean the equivalent to “wannabe Indian”—sometimes, though, it referred to a really specific nation, and sometimes people just used it to refer to themselves as mixed. I got the feeling there was more to it when it came to my dad, though. I’d done some research on him before I came up. He was serving a life sentence for murder out in BC; I’d talked to him on the phone, though he hadn’t been much help. Just called my mom a bitch and then asked if I could send him any money. I’d slammed the phone down and made myself a tequila sunrise, minus the sunrise.

“Okay, so, anyway,” I said, “let me make sure I got the details straight. You found my grandmother’s body walled up in an apartment in Montreal that someone was working on. It looked like foul play. Her dental records led you first to my dad, then to me.”

Marin nodded. His full name was Marin Boucher, but when I’d referred to him as Detective Boucher, he’d taken my hand and asked me to call him by his first name. I’d jerked my hand away but decided to take him up on the offer.

“And you were gonna contact me anyway, as her last—at least nonimprisoned—living relative, but when you also informed the tribe, they wanted a Native person to be on the scene so you wouldn’t fuck it up with your white man’s ways.” He’d been nodding up until then, but paused. “And you guys agreed that, if I was on the case, things were cool. That right?”

“Yes . . . ” he said, clearly not knowing what to make of me. I couldn’t blame him; I rarely did myself. “You are very, well, direct.”

“I’m Apache. That shit’s genetic,” I said, taking a drag.

He cocked his head, an expression of faint amusement—and confusion—playing about his lips.

“Just mail me everything you got, once you get back to the station, and I’ll get started.”

“Wait,” he said. “You do not want to come back to the station?” He said the last word the French way, making it sound fancy as hell.

“Look, I work best alone. With booze. Holed up. Don’t question my methods, and I promise, you’ll be happy.”

“Oh, I am sure of that,” he said, signalling the waitress. She’d gone by our table without even looking in our direction at least four times. Finally, she came by and merely looked at Marin, her lips curled as if she’d been forced to taste something rotten.

“Un café,” he said, and she looked as if she was about to walk off without taking my order. He stopped her with his hand and ordered another.

“They really like Indians here, don’t they?”

He laughed a short, quick, uncomfortable laugh. “The Kahnawake Reserve is on the South Shore—near where we are—and the people here . . . well, they think of the Mohawk as very militant.”

“I’m guessing the Mohawk think of themselves as very pro–basic human rights,” I said. I was used to this kind of thinking in Albuquerque, from folks who had no idea what the basic living conditions were on reservations.

“Ah, yes.”

I glanced down at the paperwork he’d given me. I had looked it over on the plane and already had a plan of action in mind. “People here generally speak English?”

“They do. But, if they are French, well, they won’t like it,” he said, his eyes crinkling pleasantly as he smiled.

“Well, I don’t like it either, but guess what: genocide.”

He laughed another one of his uncomfortable laughs.

After our coffees, I retired to my hotel room to wait for the records. But not before getting myself what passed for tequila this far north. I had work to do.

“Don’t . . . fucking . . . test . . . me . . . motherfucker!” I said, emphasizing each word with a punch to the face, helped by the brass knuckles I kept in the pocket of my motorcycle jacket. I hadn’t wanted things to turn violent, but I had no choice. And I’d needed these brass knuckles a time or two in Albuquerque, which could be a rough city. Especially for me, after I pissed off the chief of police by showing him up one too many times.

I’d gotten the records, all right, and they were something else. Looked like my grandfather, a white guy, had been an Indian agent. It always blew my mind when I thought about it—the fact that these agents had been assigned by the government to do our business for us. That it had taken so long for Indigenous Nations to be given the right to represent themselves. And my grandfather, well, he’d been assigned to Grand River, where he’d married my grandmother. Not long after, though, he was discharged due to some pretty awkward facts coming to light. I was sure that they used to excuse more than I wanted to know about—and still do, for that matter. There’d been a series of complaints about fighting, drinking, and even sexual assault, but the fine folks in Indian Affairs finally saw fit to fire him after a body turned up. A woman’s body, young. Sounded familiar.

He’d dragged my grandmother to Montreal, gotten a job in security, knocked her up, and not long after the baby was born, told the authorities that my grandmother had gone missing. In his statement, he said he thought she’d gone back up to her reserve. But it was obvious to me what had happened, and I was sure his little buddies in the system had helped cover it all up. He’d raised my dad—I peeked into his records too. It was clear that it was a case of “like father like son”: my dad been arrested off and on since he was twelve, finally committing—well, after abandoning my mother and me—the murder, of a Native woman no less, that landed him in prison for good.

I knew what I had to do. I had to find my no-good grandfather and rough the old fucker up until he confessed. Fucker lived on the South Shore—which, according to Marin, was full of Indians. The police had given me his address and told me to wait for Marin to escort me. I hadn’t. I’d knocked on his door, but he wasn’t been there, and when I asked around, a little Native kid had told me that he liked to go to a gym down the block. When I’d showed up, it was clear how unwelcome my face was. I’d insisted on talking to the owner in his office. But it had gotten heated fast, and he’d pulled a knife, yelling about how he wasn’t gonna tell no Indian bitch a fucking thing about one of his boys. I’d worked quickly, stepping up and into him, whacking him hard in just the right place on his wrist, the knife springing from his hand, and then on his neck so that he sat back, hard, on his own desk.

After his face was hamburger, he told me what I wanted to know. That someone on the force had a soft spot for my grandfather. Someone had told him I was after him.

“Motherfuck,” I said softly.

The bald old fuck laughed and spat blood onto the floor. “You will never get where he is out of me. Never.”

“You know,” I said, pulling out my knife. “There are a lot of stereotypes about Indians.”

He scoffed.

“And that’s wrong,” I said, using the blade to clean my fingernails. He watched, his eyes flicking over to the door. I wondered if the big, paunchy coward was going to yell for his buddies. I would be fucked then. But I knew he didn’t want them to know about having been beaten up by a chick. He could make anything up when I left. “But the thing about Apaches,” and here I laughed. “That shit’s true.”

“I am not afraid of a woman,” he said, trying to look casual and failing. He was wondering what other weaponry I had and where I had it. I could tell. He had that jittery eye that they all got.

“You know what we used to do to our enemies?” I paused in cleaning my nails and looked up at him. “We liked to bury the fuckers. But only up to their necks. Then, we’d slice their eyelids off, nice and clean.” Here, I made a delicate slicing motion in the air, and I could see his eyelids flicker. I knew I was close to home. “See, but we weren’t done yet,” I said, laughing again. “Here’s the art part. I mean, shit. We made baskets too. Still do. Fucking great baskets. Anyway, we’d take honey, which we’d harvested with our own Indigenous hands, and spread that shit good, all over their eyeballs. And here’s the key,” I paused here to see what effect my words were having on him. “I think you’ll like this: we buried those fuckers right next to anthills.” Then I threw my head back and really let loose. My mom used to say my laugh was spooky.

It took him a minute to get it, but when he did, he broke. “You crazy bitch. I will tell you where he is. But only because that old fucker isn’t worth my life. He’s holed up in a hotel.”

“Which?” I asked, fingering the knife.

“Best Western,” he said and spat again. I could tell he wanted to spit in my face but was afraid of me. Good.

I crept around the side, quiet like white folks thought my ancestors were—and like my ancestors were—the number 112 burned into my brain. I’d called in with a spunky, generic-girl accent, asking the front desk if they spoke English—they did—and telling them that I was a long-lost cousin of Joseph Anderson’s and that I wanted to surprise him. I thought to knock and then, when he opened the door, to stun him with an uppercut to the jaw. As I moved closer, my gun cocked and loaded, close to my side, I thought about my father. How his shit father had named him after himself. How he’d disappeared on my mother. He’d hit her a few times. Then he’d woken up to a knife at his throat, a little blood already pooling in his clavicle, my mother smiling down at him, pushing the knife in a little farther, until he agreed to get his shit and go. I was also thinking about something else I had just learned today: that my grandmother had lost her status as a Native person by marrying—possibly by being forced to marry—my grandfather, because that’s the way it worked back then, in this country. And I’d thought Indians had it bad in the States. I looked to my right. The curtains were closed, and I was afraid I might cast a shadow. I could hear the faint sounds of the television, some commercial in French. I knocked. And got punched hard, flat onto my back.

I looked up. There was an older, muscular-as-fuck man, his eyes bloodshot, laughing down at me. “I heard I got a relative looking for me,” he said, opening the door with a rifle in his hand. “Get in here.” I scrambled up, honestly impressed by the old man.

“Keep going. And put your hands on your head,” he said, pushing me along to the bathroom. Fucker was smart, I had to hand it to him. And I knew who’d tipped him off too. The guy I’d roughed up at the gym. Guess I hadn’t scared him good enough.

“Sit,” he said, shoving me onto the toilet seat. “You move, I shoot.” His accent was barely discernible. “I don’t care if you’re my kid’s kid or what. Shoulda never had him. Didn’t want one.” He looked down at me with the kind of disgust you reserve for something stuck on the bottom of your boot.

“Here’s what’s gonna happen,” he said, patting me down, taking my gun and knife, then swinging the bathroom door shut and, from the sounds of it, wedging a chair up against the handle. “You’re going to be a good little Indian,” he called through the door. “And I’m gonna pack up and leave. Then you’re gonna take your ass back home to the States.”

I looked up. Smiled. It was a good thing people underestimated the short, the small. The female. I could hear the sounds of the television, and though I didn’t speak French, the laugh track and the voices of children and a woman, whining, then a man, admonishing, made it clear a sitcom had come on. I got to work.

“What the fuck!” my grandfather blurted as I roundhouse kicked him in the face. I’d wriggled right out of the tiny window in the bathroom.

I ground my boot into his neck, and he grunted and put his arms around my leg, trying to dislodge it. I ground harder, and his hands began to flop. I patted him down to see what he had on him. Nothing. Overconfident, like they always were.

“Admit it,” I said, grinding harder. “You killed my grandmother.”

“Fuck . . . you,” he managed to spit out, blood following, drooling down his face and into the carpet.

“What’s a matter? She kick your ass too?” I asked. I knew that would get him.

“Bitch . . . never knew her place. Had to show her, just like I’m gonna show you.” I laughed and let go long enough to kick him in the balls, hard. He curled into a comma, screaming like a bobcat, and I waited. When he finally calmed, I spoke.

“Awww. Did the witty bitty man get scared of the woman? She scare you, sweetie?”

“She didn’t scare me,” he roared. “No one scares me.”

“Sure, babycakes. I bet she beat your ass. Just like I’m doing now.” He made an attempt to get up, but I kicked him again.

“I had to show her, just like I’ll show you.” His blue eyes were full of such venom, I felt it in my gut.

“You didn’t show her shit,” I said. This tack wasn’t quite working. Almost, but not quite. I remembered something I’d seen in a file. “I bet it bothered you like hell.”

His eyes were straining, but I could see the question in them.

“I bet it bothered you how much smarter she was than you.”

His eyes went wide, his nose pulling up in a snarl.

“I bet it pissed you off, finding out she was getting that law degree the whole time. Right under your nose. In fact, I bet she was getting ready to leave you. And you couldn’t stand it. She was ready to supersede your plain, stupid, white ass. Show it right up.”

“Fuck her! Fuck all them fucking Indians, shit. She wouldn’t learn. I tried to teach that stinking Indian, just like I tried to teach all of them, but she wouldn’t learn. None of you goddamn savages ever learn. Should’ve killed you all off.”

“You aren’t smart enough to pull off what I saw.”

“Fuck you,” he said again. His eyes were bloodshot, and he looked ready to pass out. I moved my boot up, ever so slightly.

“I was in charge of everything. I was a god to those damned savages. I owned her.”

“Someone else did it, didn’t they?” I said. “One of your government buddies. Someone with a pair of balls you don’t have. Someone smarter. You’re too stupid. Too pussy.”

“You shoulda seen the look on her face,” he said, laughing.

“When you killed her, you sick fuck?”

“Yeah, when I killed her,” he said, a shudder going through him. “God, it felt good. She couldn’t leave me then.” He laughed.

I kicked him once more in the head, hard enough to make sure he’d take a nice nap and wake up with a headache. I got his weapons and called Marin. It only took about fifteen minutes for the cops to pull up. I handed Marin the audio recorder, which had been switched on in my pocket the whole time, and told him I was going to bed. He stammered and tried to get more out of me.

I needed a drink.

Back at the hotel, I called my mom. She sounded better. I told her about what had happened. About my grandmother. My grandfather. About what he’d done. About what I’d done. As usual, she asked me if I was okay. Shit. She always asked me that, and not that I know how to cry, but given the circumstances, let’s say I choked up. But just a little.

I wandered the streets. It was raining now, and the sounds of couples speaking in English and French made me feel strange, like I wasn’t quite there, the lights of the restaurants making the sidewalks glow. I couldn’t get that old man’s face out of my mind. His hatred. His total lack of guilt. The fact that I was his granddaughter. And then there was my mom. I could feel my gut tightening when I thought about how long I had with her. Then the rain came harder, and after a few more blocks, I found what I realized I had been looking for. It wasn’t exactly a dive, but it was close enough. I walked in under the sign that said Tuppers. It was quiet, which was what I needed. I liked the brick walls, the long wooden bar, and the old-fashioned mirrors. It was charming but not too charming. I didn’t trust anything pretty.

“Un bière, s’il vous plait,” I said, settling into the seat and shaking out of my jacket.

“Which?”

I rolled my eyes. “Any,” I said. Shit. I could barely tell with these people whether it was racism or just that shitty French attitude. The bartender came back, setting my beer on the bar, and I pulled my phone out of my pocket. I had photos of her. My grandmother, Geneviève Kapesh. She had been pretty when she was young. There were pictures of her with my grandfather, her face awkwardly contorted into the facsimile of a smile, his arm slung possessively around her. I wondered who she’d been. What she’d gone through. Then there were the pictures of her body. Or, more accurately, her bones. I shook my head. If I were more tradish, this shit would require a ceremony. If I were more tradish, I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing.

I looked up as a group of Natives came in, laughing and happy. They settled into their seats, and in between the French and English, I could hear a Native word or two. A white couple at the bar whispered behind their hands about how the place was becoming a fucking Indian bar, and the bartender was clearly ignoring the group, hoping they’d go away.

“A round of drinks for my friends,” I said, and the bartender’s face twisted, but he relented and went to take their orders.

The group raised their glasses to me, and I raised mine back and then turned around. It was clear they wanted me to join, but that wasn’t my style.

It was starting to snow. I drank my beer, lowered my phone, and watched it fall, happy, at least, for the sound of the laughter of people who could be my relatives, of people who had, against all odds, survived.

Erika T. Wurth
Erika T. Wurth has published five books and teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver, where she lives now with her partner, stepchildren, and incredibly fluffy dogs.
Sean Katsenhakeron Davidson
Sean Katsenhakeron Davidson is a Mohawk freelance illustrator from Kahnawake, Quebec. His work can be viewed at katsenhakeron.com.

Like What You’re Reading?

Fact-based journalism is our passion and your right.

We’re asking readers like you to support The Walrus so we can continue to lead the Canadian conversation. This past year has seen some serious changes in Canada, from the mainstreaming of cannabis to the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair to our response to COVID-19.

We feature Canadian voices and expertise on stories that travel beyond our shores, and we firmly believe that this reporting can change the world around us. The Walrus covers it all with originality, depth, and thoughtfulness, bringing diverse perspectives to bear on essential conversations while setting the highest bar for fact-checking and rigour.

None of this would be possible without you.

As a nonprofit, we work hard to keep our costs low and our team lean, but this is a model that requires individual support to pay our contributors fairly and maintain the strength of our independent coverage.
Donations of $20 or more will receive a charitable tax receipt.
Every contribution makes a difference.
Support The Walrus from as little as $2. Thank you.