My friend Black Bird is a card-carrying member of an American Indian tribe. This means she gets a ton of free health-care services on the Indian reservation. So when she got pregnant we made a trip out to the reservation in California to get her prenatal exam. On our way, we got miserably lost in the desert. We stopped for directions several times. I'm pale and blond and she doesn't look especially native so gas station attendants asked why the heck we wanted to get to the reservation. They don't allow non-natives to just poke around, they say. They figured we'd waste our time even if we did find it. We wanted directions not warnings.
When we eventually found the reservation, there was no ethnic screening at the gates. There weren't even gates. But as we slowly drove on to the land, we began thinking of a story just in case someone decided to verify the legitimacy of our presence.
So we needed names.
On the drive I told my nervous Black Bird that the clinic would probably be a teepee and that the medicine man would blow sage smoke into her vagina to determine the sex of the baby. Terrible, I know, but it made her laugh.
So names. Her nipples deadened and darkened as is normal for pregnant women. I joked that since her baby was black, she was turning black from the inside out. Her wild, unbridled, unpregnant, unattached nickname used to be Free Bird. Now it's Black Bird. She didn't really need a nickname since she had a American Indian card but she was happy to have one.
As we got lost within the reservation, we drove down residential streets. Not a teepee in sight. Just boxy mobile homes with a variety of junk on the lawns. Broken bicycles, kids' toys faded from the sun, rusty old cars and tufts of sparse yellow foliage. On one lawn there was a big plastic white buffalo. "That's my Indian name!" I proclaimed. Which fits me perfectly since I stick out like a sore thumb on the reservation with my hair and skin color so light like the kids' toys that faded in the sun. The name stuck and now Black Bird's whole native family calls me White Buffalo.