Wampum, or Elegy for Christin Marion West

Open the sachem’s drawer and look at her embroidery of wealth:




tubular shells of
patterned drapes
running off her ears
like oil down a hose.

when the earring lines up
there seems to be a sunset
in the rare parallel
of what uncontrollably
dangles and dances.

there are also little golden
nasal rings that pinch
her aquiline features

Eagles don’t harm themselves,
        but crows have been ‘round the skies lately,
biting and harassing their nests by the lake
        beaks nose-diving in, but not-daring to pluck at the decor.

“None of these pieces needed beading”
        –she told the man who trailed behind a chief’s colored glory–
And she will forever dorn an elegance
        that no prince or king could uphold. 

Eagles turn twigs to strongholds of familial
        devotion, and build families.
This is why they hold your name on a sign,
        high above their ears.


Click here to read Victor Hugo Mendevil on the origin of the poem.

Image: photo by Elisa Stone on Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.

Victor Hugo Mendevil: In college, I was inspired to create a series of elegies dedicated to specific MMIWG (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women & Girls) victims in North America, in order to shed light on the blatant disregard, lack of precedence, and belittled priority of these disappearances and murders as news stories in mainstream media. While conducting research, I realized that the main sources of information in familiarizing oneself with a specific MMIWG case were online news articles and Wikipedia pages: surface-level, list-based references, rather than personalized stories of individuals. Therefore, my goal when writing this elegy was to overcome the erasure of Indigenous womens’ narratives by handling an individual victim’s legacy with care, grace, and power.

Written for Christin Marion West, I based the elegy on the CBC article published in August 2021: “Indigenous woman killed in B.C. had said RCMP failed to respond to stalking reports.” The line “This is why they hold your name on a sign, high above their ears” was inspired by the photograph of a community member holding photos of West on a poster at a community gathering. The image of stringing wampum beads together as a gift or decoration for someone, reminded me of how the poster is held by community members, friends, and families: a symbol of memorial, community, and commemoration. I tried to reflect the physicality of this interconnected, string-like presence of the bead in the first stanza. Though I knew little of West’s life beyond the article, I began jotting down my own thoughts and feelings, as a Native American man, on the tragedy and sorted out my emotions onto the page. Though challenging, I wished for this poem to personify West as a woman with dreams, hopes, aspirations, a loving community, and a positive legacy, rather than a name on a list, database, or news headline.

I did not know Christin Marion West or her family personally, so this elegy is in dedication “for” her, rather than addressed “to” her. I pray that her family finds healing and perseverance from this devastating loss.

Victor Hugo Mendevil
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  1. Victor H Mendevil is of Blackfeet & Yaqui descent. It’s an honor to know Natives are well represented in poetry with Victor. The missing women of native descent deserve their names to be in poetry. And his grandmother Celida “Salli” Goodheart Benitez (maiden Wolfchild) was very proud of him before her passing.


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