This week’s issue celebrates National Native American Heritage Month.
Our editor was able to attend an event from the Library of Congress to kick the month off. On November 1, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden visited with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.
Hayden is the first woman and the first African American Librarian of Congress. Harjo (Muscogee Nation) is the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate. Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) is the first Native American Secretary of the Interior. It was an august meeting of powerful women!!!
It turns out Haaland was a student of Harjo’s her senior year of college at the University of New Mexico. In honor of the event, Haaland read of poem written by Harjo, and Harjo read of poem written by Haaland.
Haaland’s prose poem “For Water” was especially mesmerizing. It helps if you read it out loud.
Introducing it, Harjo said, “You get to our age, and all of those teachers are gone are. We still have their words, we still have the tracks of their words, what they left behind. And one of the things they used to say was that the water is precious, and we were going to deal with water shortages, fires, the things that we’re seeing now. But we need to speak for water. We are humans, we are made of water…So what does water ask for human beings? Water wants to be acknowledged. We all have a charge to care for it.”
Haaland simply said, “Words matter.”
We at the West River Eagle agree, which is why we devote our work to words.
For Water, by Deb Haaland
A fight for water, for land, begins at home, at the kitchen table, in the bath before bed, while your mother recites a story from her childhood. Our family traditions, to watch out for land, water, animals. To pray to and for them, so they will always be there.
“Don’t waste,” was my mother’s mantra, a mantra for the ages, to be careful with the things that keep us alive. Not one drop of water has come into or left our planet in 4.6 billion years. We have to make it last.
At a tender age, my grandma woke me up at sunrise to fetch water. The sun cast the golden light on the red mesa at 6:00 am. The dirt road is welcoming. A shallow pan was all anyone needed to begin the day. “Let it rain,” is what desert Indians say.
I am here because my ancestors knew how to survive, how to plan, how to harvest, how to collect water, dance and pray for rain. I’m here because my ancestors believed that living another day was worth my life.
Giving is like receiving and above all else staying on the land our mother beckoned us to, so many centuries ago, was her plan not ours. The obligation works both ways. It can now be determined that Indians should not perish from the earth but be fruitful and multiply. Annihilation was never meant to be. But the Indian wars are not yet finished and Indians are still fighting, still defending what is theirs, like their ancestors, defending the same water and the same land, a repeat of the not-so-ancient past.
“Indians have given enough!” a wise Pueblo woman once said. The Lakotas and Dakotas and the White Earth people who once roamed for thousands of miles like the buffalo, unencumbered until fences, and people, and gunshot, and cannons took their toll. The water is what they still have. What we still have.