Joining recent memoirs by Elissa Washuta and Terese Mailhot, Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe’s Red Paint illuminates the stories and experiences of Indigenous women from the Pacific Northwest for a 21st-century audience. Red Paint offers a poetic narrative of trauma and healing through ancestral rites and punk rock, both of which prove to be potent medicine during LaPointe’s excavation of family legacy and matrilineal power.
Named for her great grandmother, Violet taqʷšəblu Hilbert, LaPointe bears not only her relative’s Skagit name but also the strengths and wounds of her maternal line. Haunted by childhood sexual abuse and periods of teenage homelessness, LaPointe initially found solace and community in the punk scene. But as she came to recognize her trauma as a sickness of the spirit, LaPointe leaned into the Lushootseed language and the curative practices of five generations of her Coast Salish ancestors.
A large part of LaPointe’s healing involved recovering and reimagining the life stories of the women she’s descended from, including Comptia Koholowish, a Chinook woman who witnessed the death by smallpox of her entire community in the early 1900s. Aunt Susie, a medicine worker and storyteller in the early 20th century, is another powerful woman whose words and example come to life in Red Paint.
The wearing of red paint is a ceremonial act for the Coast Salish people, identifying the bearer as a healer. LaPointe’s quest to wear the red paint of her ancestors in the context of her own life as a poet and performer integrates the twin strands, past and present, of this stunning memoir. For LaPointe, restoring the self to health is entwined with restoring Native women’s voices that have been erased throughout history. She uses her own luminescent voice to tell their stories, wielding language, words, ritual and community as tools of contemporary and ancestral healing.