Writing As Resistance: Growing Up Brown In Montana

Oct 5, 2017

“Even if there are people in your life who don’t love you, the sky loves you, the ocean loves you, the land loves you. You are always connected to something that loves you.” -- Jennifer Finley

My Hands Have Vertigo

The following are highlights from a conversation with Jennifer Finley about her book, My Hands Have Vertigo. For the full interview, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: What does it mean to be loved by the land?

Jennifer Finley: I think it means to be loved by a piece of yourself. One of my dear friends Julie Cajune always says that our name for ourselves, the Salish people, is  “flesh of this land.” So we’re a piece of this land, the land is a piece of us. By saying that the land loves us, it’s saying, to me I think, that it’s a piece of us that still loves us. And as a yoga teacher, one of the things you learn about yoga is that the deepest part of you is love and I think the land is an embodiment of that. It’s a piece of ourselves that grows, that has faith in reproduction and reaching for the sky, and being orange and being purple and being beautiful, that’s what it means to me.

How would you describe your own relationship to your beauty?

That’s a really hard question. That’s a very emotional question for me. . . I think that growing up brown, in Montana and in America, was really really hard, and there was no place or no one or no thing that told me I was beautiful or had anything important to say and so I really think that growing up in those circumstances it’s truly miraculous that I became a poet, that there’s part of me that’s a fighter, that there’s part of me that’s a rebel. That there was  part of me that could stand up to the status quo of where I was raised, that there was part of me that could stand up to the status quo in this country and instead of buying into this idea that I had nothing important to say, that I stood up to that and became a writer. And I feel like every time I write something it’s an act of resistance. And every time I accept my beauty and acknowledge the beauty in others it’s an act of resistance.

One thing I heard you say publicly that stuck with me was, “I refuse to see myself through anyone else’s eyes.”

Yeah, so that’s the part of me that’s a fighter that’s the part of me that continually has to rise up against the status quo. And it took me a while to get there. And I think being able to do that, being able to see myself, and see my own worth regardless of what anybody else thinks, it’s a practice. It’s like yoga. It’s something you have to continually practice.

To hear the full interview, click the link above. 

About the Book:

"My Hands Have Vertigo" is a book of poetry, but it's also how I swam through an ocean of sadness and felt my way through a new life with words." – Jennifer Finley

Jennifer Finley
Credit Jennifer Finley

Jennifer Finley, who also wrote books under her previous name of Jennifer Greene, is Salish and Chippewa/Cree. She is an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. 

Jennifer was born and raised on the Flathead Reservation in MT. She has written three books of poetry, and her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies. Her books are What I Keep(which won the 1998 North American Native Authors First Book Award published by Greenfield Review Press), What Lasts (Foothills Publishing) & most recently My Hands Have Vertigo (Likesgoodbooks Press). 

Jennifer also wrote a children's book about the Salish names for the months of the year and did all the writing on a spoken word CD containing stories of powerful Salish women. The Montana Office of Public Education purchased both for all the schools in the state of Montana. 

Jennifer co-wrote a play entitled "Belief," about Salish Women which was performed in Bigfork, MT, the University of Montana, Hawaii, Spain, Scotland and other venues. 

She was invited to international poetry festivals in Macedonia and Bosnia. Jennifer is also an award winning journalist for feature stories about tribal people. 

Jennifer has worked as an English teacher at both the high school and college level. She's also a yoga teacher,  a runner, and a mother of three.