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Monday, March 6, 2017

WORDS FOR WATER at the Whitney Museum, NY

On March 5, 2017 I had the honor to be part of Words for Water, a multi-genre performance by Indigenous women held at The Whitney Museum in New York.  


Comprised of storytelling, poetry, live music, prose, video poem and music video, the evening gave back to me an essential, but lately lost, sense of belonging and collective strength. I have been struggling under the weight of personal grief and national mourning, of anger and hopelessness in the face of a great tragedy-in-progress.  And even though I knew with my mind it was not true that I was suffering alone, my heart, my body, felt alone anyway.

Last night infused me with the knowledge - in heart, mind and spirit - that I am not alone, that I am part of a dear, dear community of Indigenous women who put their hearts on the line every day, every hour, alongside mine.  Last night we linked arms and sang our resistance song, which is a love song, which is our Mother's song, a wild composition of fierceness, of tenderness, of longing and holding and celebratory reclamation.  We are each just exactly who we are: seeing the world from our human perspective, offering our best gifts in open hands with our own unique touch.  All different - Lakota, Ojibway, Muscogee/Creek, Mojave, White Mountain Apache, Metis, Esselen/Chumash - could we be any more different?! - and yet, meeting on the common ground of aching, unrelenting love for this planet, who is the Mother we cherish as we must learn to cherish our own bodies, the bodies she made, the bodies in which She is present.

Our purpose, officially, was to draw attention to, and make manifest in the world, the courage and horror of Standing Rock, and the ways in which these threats to clean water from fossil fuel development and dependency are, quite literally, suicide. But it is also matricide, it is also a contribution to the murder of the complex being of Earth.  And it is also the reinscription of colonization's primary crime: the rape of women, the trafficking of women's bodies, and the rape and desecration of our Mother's body through fracking and oil extraction.

Last night we engaged in the greatest resistance of all:  love.  

To love ourselves, as women; to love one another as women, companions, lovers, sisters, mothers, daughters, granddaughters; to love the bodies that hold our spirits, our female bodies that are so despised by corporations, by patriarchy, by institutions - this is an effort so great, we cannot do it alone, not even in the deepest prayer, not even with the most determined intentions.

We need each other.  When we try to live disconnected from one another, locked into my work, my life, my responsibilities, my writing, my music, my art, we will fail.  We will fail, and we will fail alone.  

This must be our work.  Our lives, our responsibilities, our writing, our music, our art.  

We come from the earth, every bit of us, every mineral, ever molecule of water, every starburst of soul.  And the earth created us in Her image: a vast pulsing network of rhizomes, spiderwebs, veins; we breathe and pray and exist as one multitude, one community.

Talking with Jennifer this morning, she helped me articulate this sensation of collaborative connection even further.  "As each person went up to the stage, if felt like she was the center," she said, "and yet, we were all the center . . . "

YES.  The center kept shifting, cycling through each of us.  We each took a turn being central to the ceremony, the song; bearing that center, carrying the weight of that larger moving, circulatory ceremony.  And then we would pass that center on to the next woman, for her to add her own irreplaceable words.  Thanks to the hours, days, weeks Natalie and Jennifer spent planning, thinking, crafting the evening, that movement was seamless and loving, every single time.  Until Laura's exquisite, radical violin voice brought us around to home, to completion of a ceremony we could only have attempted as many coming together as one.

Last night, I remembered that.  Last night, it was remembered for me by my sisters Natalie, Layli, Toni, Laura, Jennifer, Heid, Louise, Joy.  Last night was a ceremony for resurrecting the lost, the grief-stricken, the dead.  Last night was our renewal ceremony, an offering not just for ourselves, not just for our communities, not just for our audiences both in the flesh and on livestream, but to Her.

Some moments go beyond prayer.  Some moments are a vow.  Last night, we took that vow.  We will love You with every bit of our fiercest abilities.  We will be relentless and joyful and yes, we will be women who love ourselves so that we may better love You.

Nimasianexelpasaleki.


Layli Long Soldier, Laura Ortman, Deborah Miranda, Natalie Diaz, Jennifer Foerster, Toni Jensen.  With gratitude to Megan Heuer of The Whitney Museum for her vision, guidance & loving support.

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