“Helen Betty Osborne” by Marilyn Dumont

I’m taking a Metis Literature course this term and it has been a truly educational, awe- and rage-inspiring experience thus far. This week we read a collection of poems by Marilyn Dumont (descendant of Gabriel Dumont for you few Canadians with some knowledge of history…) and they were incredible. I was a bit apprehensive and skeptical approaching poetry, not having studied it for 4 years. Now I remember what I loved about it and what I have recently rediscovered in the art of spoken word. These forms are truly powerful, interesting, and meaningful ways to use language.

Enjoy, “Helen Betty Osborne” from Marilyn Dumont’s collection of poems entitled, A Really Good Brown Girl:


       Betty, if I set out to write this poem about you

it might turn out instead

to be about me

or any one of

my female relatives

it might turn out to be

about this young native girl

growing up in rural Alberta

in a town with fewer Indians

than ideas about Indians,

in a town just south of the ‘Aryan Nations’


     it might turn out to be

about Anne Mar Aquash, Donald Marshall or Richard Cardinal,

it might even turn out to be

about our grandmothers,

beasts of burden in the fur trade

skinning, scraping, pounding, packing,

left behind for ‘British Standards of Womanhood,’

left for white-melting-skinned women,

not bits-of-brown women

left here in this wilderness, this colony.


       Betty, if I start to write a poem about you

it might turn out to be

about hunting season instead,

about ‘open season’ on native women

it might turn out to be

about your face     young and hopeful

staring back at me    hollow now

from a black and white page

it might be about the ‘townsfolk’     (gentle word)

townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’

and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence.’

     Betty, if I write this poem.


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