Featured artist Kanyon Sayers-Roods and storyteller Cristino Velasquez
Sometimes we forget to take time to honor the very basics of human existence. This includes mother earth, our ancestors, women (givers of life), and water. We are an average of 60% water and rely on it for nutrition, yet we often overuse and neglect to care for our resources. Organized by local curator Mica Valdez (Mexica), the art exhibit opening for “AMAH KATURA: Women Honoring Sii (Water)” sought to reflect on these aspects of life and philosophy. The women artists and Charlene Sul (Ohlone) collectively decided on the name. The event and exhibit provided an opportunity for artists, writers, musicians, and dancers to come together as a community to honor our water and women.
The exhibit featured contemporary works of art by local Ohlone women who creatively brought to light themes of water, the protection of mother earth, and women. Among these visual artists were Kanyon Sayers-Roods, Catherine Herrera and Renee Castro. Ohlone women in particular were honored and given precedence since the location of the event, and much of the Bay Area, is Ohlone territory. Located at the pleasant Akat Café Kalli in Oakland, California the opening event on January 11, 2014 boasted an impressive cultural lineup
I arrived in time to take part in opening the event in a good way with song, danza, and the honoring of our ancestors. Members from the dance groups In Xochitl In Cuicatl and Nanahuatzin honored the four directions and welcomed desperately needed rain to the Bay Area. Many people wandered out from the surrounding businesses to take part in the event. Mica opened by reminding us of our origins from water and participating in a water blessing song with members from Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) drum group. The event was graced by the playfulness of a special guest, Akat, and his parents, Jose Rodriguez and Rocio Cervantes who own Akat Café Kalli.
The poets and storytellers at the event were Luna Maia (Yaqui), Cristino Velasquez (Chicano/Tlingit Raven Clan), and Che Shul (Mexica Xochimilca, Dog Clan), among others. Desirae Harp (Wappo/Dine’), an up and coming vocalist, also graced the community with her groundbreaking music and poetry. Nizhoni Ellenwood (NiiMi’iPuu Nez Perce/Apache) a talented vocalist who performed, has dedicated her life to both traditional and contemporary Native music. A common theme among the performers highlighted the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity in order to move forward as Native people and as a human race.
Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Mutsun Ohlone, Chumash), known to many as Coyote Woman, spoke about her work with Mutsun Ohlone language revival and the need for youth participation. She considers this work crucial for the future of Indian Canyon and the next 7 generations. “Language is part of our cultural identity. Awakening what has been dormant and assumed dead is key to revitalizing our culture and indigenous pride”, says Kanyon. She and her mother, Ann Marie Sayers, are caretakers for Indian Canyon which is the only California Indian Country (Individual Indian Allotment) between Santa Barbara and Point Reyes. She also shared her grandmother’s song and had a booth for artwork in addition to the show.
Wahleah Johns/Black Mesa Water Coalition
Wahleah Johns (Navajo) with the Black Mesa Water Coalition located in Flagstaff, Arizona also spoke of an important water rights issue involving an aquifer in Black Mesa used to transport coal to Nevada. The coal is used to power neighboring communities in Arizona, Nevada, and California. However the damage done to the Black Mesa’s water, the environment, and community health are staggering. With 3.3 million gallons a day used to transfer coal for 35 years, it is no wonder that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) were able to publish an assessment in 2000 attributing the decline of the aquifer to the Peabody Western Coal Company and their ground water pumping. Since this ground water resource is the main source of drinking water for the surrounding Hopi and Navajo people, the importance of renewable energy source development like wind and solar power are vital.
Model systems like the Black Water Water Coalition remind us to draw our attention to local water rights issue such as fracking and the pollution of our rivers. Fracking, which involves the disruption of deep shale and rock formations for oil and gas production, has been a concern of environmentalists for several years. This is also becoming an issue on reservations where communities are divided on the subject. In addition, efforts to clean up polluted California water sources continue. Depleted sources of water, like the Colorado river in Southern California, are also of concern.
Many people were involved in the organization of the event. Jose and Rocio, the owners of Akat Café Kalli, helped install the artwork. Renee Castro installed her own work and Marla Sands volunteered to help install art. Alex Garcia organized with the danzantes and Acacia Woods Chan photographed the event. It was a great feeling to be part of something so community oriented and all those involved enjoyed themselves.
When asked about her feelings of the event Aurora Sarabia said, “I like seeing all the nations coming together. I heard of the Eagle and the Condor [prophecy] as a child and always dreamed this would happen.”
Dianna Baldwin (Osage/Kaw/Cherokee of Oklahoma) received her B.S. in Zoology (minor in American Indian Studies) and M.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology from San Francisco State University. She enjoys catching up with friends at Native events in the Bay Area.
Dianna Baldwin/ Photography by Moon Flower