Sending love to Tohono O'odham Water Protector, Vana Dee Worthy, as she makes her way back up to North Dakota to fight the system. Stay strong, sister.
To be Tohono O’odham
To be Tohono O’odham means to be a human from the desert, which in turn means we are born to be water protectors.
My Hu’uli-bat, my grandmother was a water protector who always made sure we used every drop of water possible. She’d have us wash our faces in a basin of cool water, then arms, legs and feet, pulling from it the perpetual dust that clings to you all day and changes the color of your skin.
That water was then purposefully tossed on a plant or a spot of crumbly dirt that needed to be packed down again. It cooled the earth and brought the sweet, wet dirt smell to our nostrils and made it feel like home.
We had a water olla under our wato, the shade structure connected to our home. The olla was wrapped in cloth and anytime the adults took a sip of cool water, they checked the cloth. If it was dry, they carefully spilled more water on it, which cooled the remaining water inside by evaporation.
Visitors were given water, they were never asked. They were never given the opportunity to decline. Who would decline? We all know to be healthy we need to have water.
Sudagi o wud doakag. Water is life.
Plants in my Hu’uli-ke:li bat’s garden would be slowly soaked with water. I’d always imagine them stretching out and basking in the water soaked mud, the way a human might relish the feel of water on a hot, summer day.
To be Tohono O’odham means to have been born waiting for the rains.
It means to start our new year by pulling down the clouds when the saguaro fruit is ripe, in the heat of the summer. To be Tohono O’odham is to pull the sweet bahidaj from tall ha-ha:san to make wine. And it means to dance and sing down the rain of course.
The rain in the desert comes with a crash. First we see the Jegos coming, a wall of dust, sometimes taller than buildings comes sweeping through. The jegos announces the rain that we’ve all been waiting for. The smell of the wet desert is intoxicating. It fills us with joy.
We open doors and windows to greet the rain. The small flecks of rain that come inside are welcomed, like hugs from an old friend.
Our monsoons bring the desert back to life. It cools the earth and perks up the vegetation. The rain brings life back to the desert.
Sudagi o wud doakag. Water is life.
To be Tohono O’odham is to cherish water.
It is to be concerned with water tables that are “overdraft” like a bank account. But how are we paying those fees?
To be Tohono O’odham, a person from the desert, means you’re cousins with the Akimel O’odham, the river people… but are they still river people… if they don’t have a river?
To be Tohono O’odham means you can taste the sweetness of the water. Except now there are some places on the rez that have high levels of arsenic and you’re not supposed to drink that water anymore.
But don’t worry though, the Environmental Protection Agency can change the levels that are acceptable for human consumption on paper.
Or is that just another way of saying genocide is legal, as long as there’s a government stamp of approval?
Our ancestors were concerned with digging wells and hauling water, finding natural springs and places where the rain naturally pools, right off the mountains. Our ancestors made pots that sat on top of heads to haul the water that the whole family would use in a day.
Now we (mostly) have pipes that bring that water to our homes, to our gardens, to our bathrooms, to our showers where we can sing along to the radio, to our slip and slides or for some of us lucky enough, to our swimming pools that will be filled with dark brown O’odham a’al who turn into fish all summer long.
We still need clean water.
Somewhere along the line, someone forgot that we’re human beings. They forgot that we need water every day.
Somewhere along the line, people began to forget that we are born waiting for the rain.
But we haven't forgotten.
Bo him g ju:ki. The rain is coming.
Sudag o wud doakag. Water is life.