Category Archives: Native American Studies

Two Essays on Our Work at Standing Rock

pregnant woman with earth in belly and water flowing around her

“Water is Life” drawing by Ruby Chacón. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Water is Life: Why Chicana/o/xs Should Support NoDAPL

By Marisa Elena Duarte

On Thursday October 27 militarized police forces from multiple states joined the Morton County Sheriff’s Department in North Dakota to initiate a violent series of crowd control tactics against the peaceful water protectors and land defenders blocking the illegal construction of an Energy Transfer Company (ETC) oil pipeline across land adjacent to the current boundaries of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The pipeline, designed to transport oil from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota down to the Gulf Coast, and from there to various domestic and international markets, also threatens clean water and soil through the entire Midwest region, all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. In July, Continue reading

Reports from May 2015 Indigenous Knowledge Gathering in California

group moving and dancing through room

Photo of Indigenous Knowledge Gathering by Agos Bawi. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Movements in Motion by Angela “Mictlanxochitl” Anderson Guerrero

On May 2nd, indigenous communities, scholars, and activists were invited to the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco to build understanding around culturally competent integration of indigenous knowledge in the academy. A student-initiated event aimed to raise awareness and attention to the value of culturally competent curriculum and programming at CIIS and other universities. The Indigenous Knowledge Gathering was an experience that inspired dialogue, tough questions, and movement to honor the history and sources of indigenous knowledge. Huge awe for our volunteer team who showed up at 8 a.m. and stepped into action to welcome and invite everyone into CIIS. The day was organized to facilitate dialogue and to build community with all types of knowledge keepers. No papers were presented, but each of the presenters were asked to share their testimonies, which in return help ground our self-reflection as a group and dialogue.

Wicahpiluta Candelaria, Carla Munoz, and Desiree Munoz welcomed all of us into Ohlone territories with songs of mourning and joy to start the day. Monique guided and weaved together the stories shared by Ohlone participants Corrina Gould, Nicholas Alexander Gomez, and Jonathan Cordero of their connections to the land and the transformative possibilities of bringing Native people to the table for equitable say and involvement involving the land, indigenous knowledge, and traditions. Laura Cedillo fired up the dialogue by challenging us all to think about the benefits of indigenous knowledge cultivated in the academy?

To slow down and encourage the dialogue to linger among participants, Corrina Gould blessed the mid-day meal that was prepared by Seven Native American Generations Youth Organization, or SNAG. We were honored to be the first to see the unveiling of the SNAG mural, which will travel with Bay Area urban native youth to Hawaii for the cultural exchange with Native Hawaiian Youth from Halau Ku Mana Charter School in Oahu. Huge thanks to Sylvie Karina and Ras K’Dee for sharing the native foods and allowing us to experience the art of the hawks wings wide open carrying all of our traditions.

Jack Gray and Dakota Alcantara-Camacho ushered in the connections starting to form with a powerful dance, O Hanau Ka Maunakea, inviting all of us to swiftly come together in circles of 10 and to share a story of who we are. There are no words to describe how ancestors, sounds, movement, testimony came through the space. We as a gathering started to really to get know one another and our collective intentions. This sharing became the basis for each group’s creation of actions they hope to see move forward. [Living Report and Dissemination To Be Shared Soon!]

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s presentation on “Positioning Indigenous Knowledge in Higher Education” was a moment of poetic justice because it brought into an academic space an indigenous people’s history that validates our stories, traumas, and hopes for all of our peoples. Roxanne also helped contextualize the powerful action of the gathering within CIIS, an academic institution, as a radical moment that she hopes ripples into other institutions.

To bring the dialogue to a pause so it could sit within each of us as we head home, Rulan Tangen and Jack Gray gathered everyone on the ground for our intentions to be heard and to begin to take shape. What followed was transformation, activation, provocation, identification, communication, decolonization, indigenize-nation. The Indigenous Knowledge Gathering committee passed out medicinal tea by Cultura sin Fronteras and white sage seeds were gifted as thanks.

But we were not done… we had to celebrate! After amazing collective clean-up/break-down effort, we were greeted by jams of Ras in the First Floor. Kris Hoag aka “Kwaz” who came in all the way from Bishop Paiute Tribe, gifted us some of his beats from his heart. Then there was dancing and Chhoti Ma dropped in to share more hip hop medicine, then more dancing.  Visiting San Francisco State students and members of Student Kouncil of Inter Tribal Nations or SKINS, Carlos Peterson-Gomez, and Nancy Andrade were inspired to drop some more beats that invited more dancing.

To close it up 14 hours later, we circled up and Antonio from the community shared songs from the Peace and Dignity Run. Pomo Joe and Ras offered Pomo songs of goodness and wellness and a few more hugs of gratitude for all that was given and received were exchanged before we dispersed under the Full Moon light.

Gathering and work will continue…  Please stay posted via our Facebook page Indigenous Knowledge Gathering and our website: www.indigenousknowledgegathering.com.

Angela “Mictlanxochitl” Anderson Guerrero was a lead organizer for the event described in this post. She is a Doctoral Candidate in East West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies whose dissertation is titled “Testimonio and Knowledge Production Among Transterritorial Mexican and Mexican American Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners: A Decolonial, Participatory, and Grassroots Postmodernist Inquiry.” She is a Council Member of Circulo Danza de la Luna Huitzlimetzli in Austin, Texas, and is finishing her nine year commitment with the Circulo Danza de la Luna Xochitlmetzli in Mexico. Previous positions include Center for Metropolitan Chicago Initiatives, Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame; Integral Teaching Fellow at CIIS: Emerging Arts Professional Fellow in San Francisco/Bay Area. She received an M.A. in Public Policy and a Certificate in Health Administration and Policy from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Public Policy in 2004.

speakers at talking session

Photo of Indigenous Knowledge Gathering by Agos Bawi. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Medicine in Knowledge by Susy Zepeda

Attending the First Annual Indigenous Knowledge Gathering at CIIS was exactly what my spirit needed as I work to find my ground and honor past, present, and future ancestors on my path. I was pleasantly surprised to find a critical yet warm space where the knowledge honored and spoken came from the heart of Indigenous peoples.  Participants were invited to be fully-embodied in non-hierarchal space, through eating amazing earth-centered food, building community with each other through sharing story, and listening in an accountable way.

The deep lessons of how to exist and live in a respectful way on Ohlone land and collaborate with Native and Indigenous local communities were insightful and instructive.  Corrina Gould, Nicholas Alexander Gomez, and Jonathan Cordero offered interruptions to the usual “othering” that tends to happen in western-centered scholarly work with Indigenous peoples—instead their assertions spoke to the urgency of taking up this work in ways that are accountable to ancestral knowledges, the earth, and all interconnected beings, as well as facilitative of the complexity of  being present as a vessel for transformation. As a queer Xicana Indígena scholar-activist, critical thinker, and practitioner of curanderismo, this gathering was medicine for my whole being.

The collective space created by Jack Gray, Dakota Alcantara-Camacho, and others who offered words, ceremony, movement, and song opened a path for participants to show up for ourselves and each other through small talking circles that facilitated instant heart connections and desire to learn more about each other’s histories and struggle. Roxanne Dubar-Ortiz’s sharing from her 2014 text, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, offered both wisdom and knowledge about the unseen genocidal and “transcommunal”[1] histories, highlighting the importance of world-wide decolonizing efforts that must also address oppressive dominant social and state structures. The closing movement and creativity brought the gathering full circle. We  all left full of wonderful energy and language to continue the important work of decolonization, solidarity, and loving our whole complex selves.

~Ometeotl

Susy Zepeda,is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Davis.  She is affiliated faculty with the Mellon funded Social Justice Initiative and the UC Davis Race Project. Zepeda is part of a writing collaborative, the Santa Cruz Feminist of Color Collective and a member of the Mujeres Talk Editorial Board.  She is currently working on her first book manuscript.

Photo of Indigenous Knowledge Gathering by Angela Anderson Guerrero. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Photo of Indigenous Knowledge Gathering by Agos Bawi. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Learning and Practicing Indigenous Intellectual Traditions by Alicia Cox

The First Annual Indigenous Knowledge Gathering at the California Institute of Integral Studies was a landmark in attempts to reposition indigenous knowledge in higher education. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz stated in her talk, the history of the United States has conventionally elided indigenous perspectives and perpetuated systems of colonization and genocide. Even the “integral” philosophy on which CIIS is founded is one of bridging “Eastern” and “Western” thought with no regard for the intellectual traditions of indigenous Americans. As a researcher and teacher of Native American and Indigenous Studies, the gathering invigorated and inspired me. I look forward to attending this event for years to come, and I urge readers to do the same or, better yet, gather indigenous intellectuals at a campus near you!

The opening panel featuring three Ohlone scholars was particularly instructive. Corrina Gould gave an overview of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 and the Termination Era of U.S. Indian policy that encouraged thousands of Native people to move from reservations to urban centers like San Francisco. In Corrina’s words, “Indians from elsewhere . . . were unaware of the existence of California Indians.” Subsequently, Indians from all over worked together to create organizations in the Bay Area such as the United Indian Nations, the American Indian Child Resource Center, and Indian People Organizing for Change. The latter organization has been especially instrumental in raising awareness about issues affecting Bay Area indigenous peoples, such as the destruction of shellmounds and other sacred sites by corporate and governmental construction projects. Since the Ohlone people are not recognized by the federal government, they are working to regain stewardship of their Native homelands by creating a cultural easement, a Native women-led urban land trust. IPOC is seeking volunteers to write grants, develop a website, and provide maintenance and upkeep services once the land is granted. Please visit ipocshellmoundwalk.homestead.com for more information or to donate funds.

The second session was led by Maori Contemporary Dance artist Jack Gray from Aotearoa. During the lunch break, Jack, who is a friend of mine, asked me to sing a song to help open the next session. This was not part of the program, and I was hesitant due to performance anxiety, but I understood that improvisation—a flexibility around the spirit of what is happening—is part of the indigenous intellectual tradition that Jack was offering. To rouse and ready the audience to receive the gifts of the gathering, Dåkot-ta Alcantara Camacho, a Chamorro Contemporary Hip-Hop Theater artist, chanted a welcoming song that honors a great navigator for the knowledge/spirit it takes to travel the seas. I then sang “The Trail of Tears Song” in Tsalagi (Cherokee), Eastern Band dialect, to thank Creator for life and the food, material and spiritual, that nourishes it. Several participants from the Transformance Lab that Jack and Dåkot-ta had co-facilitated the previous week at California State, East Bay, then led the audience in chanting and movement, helping us harness the power of gathering, sharing, and performing to awaken the latent energy and transformative potential that exist in all of us.

Alicia Cox completed her Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Native American Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and she is currently a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include Native American literatures and gender and sexuality studies. She was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and she presently resides in Oakland, California.

References

[1] John Brown Childs, Transcommunality: From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003). 

Rafaela G. Castro (1943-2015): In Memoriam

photo of Rafaela G. Castro

Rafaela G. Castro. Photo courtesy of Castro Family. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Roberto C. Delgadillo

I first met Rafaela G. Castro during the annual week long Guadalajara International Book Fair, better known as the FIL (from its Spanish name: Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara), in early December 2000. The FIL is the most important publishing gathering in Ibero-America. Created 29 years ago by the University of Guadalajara, the FIL attracts academic, public, and school librarians and allows them to see and explore the books that form the core of major US based Spanish language library collections. The face-to-face interaction between librarians, publishers, and vendors result in better service and access to public and academic audiences. With business as one of its main goals, it is also a cultural festival in which literature plays a major role including a program where authors from all continents and languages participate, and a forum for the academic discussion of the major issues of our time. I was a part-time reference librarian assigned to the Hispanic Services Division of the Inglewood Public Library in Southern California. I was given the opportunity to attend and assist my then department head Adalin Torres, who kindly took the time to introduce me to librarians, publishers, vendors, and scholars I now consider friends and mentors. At the time I did not know Rafaela was a “luminary” among Chicana/o /Ethnic Studies Bibliographers. Her book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans is considered an excellent, and indispensable, starting point for scholars interested in examining terms associated with the Chicano experience, history, and customs.

I remember joining Rafaela for lunch that first time, along with UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Selector/Liaison Susana Hinojosa, after Adalin mentioned my pursuit of a doctoral degree in Latin American history. I enjoyed the many anecdotes Rafaela and Susana shared, and regret that I did not meet with them — as I should have — for the next three successive FILs. At the time, I faced several educational and professional constraints, did not envision a career in academic librarianship, and yet for reasons too numerous to detail here I also did not have what it takes to establish a career as a professor of Latin American history. Nonetheless, throughout that time, Susana and Rafaela kept in touch and strongly encouraged me to switch to academic librarianship. I credit Susana for getting me into the UC system and Rafaela for directing me to UC Davis in particular after I finished my studies in 2004.

To say I was overwhelmed when I arrived at UC Davis in November 2005 would be an understatement. By then Rafaela had retired and was pursuing other professional and personal interests and yet she always made the time to speak to me whenever I had a question — or several, as was often the case. During our phone calls and visits at subsequent FILs, Rafaela taught me invaluable lessons: she made me particularly aware of the vulnerability and necessity of creating and constantly maintaining library collections that document the experience of America’s marginal cultures. Often it is only experienced librarians, archivists, and scholars who can truly understand the significance of such collections. Rafaela taught me that all too often such collections  are especially vulnerable to being undervalued. My success as a Chicana/o Studies Bibliographer is built upon Rafaela’s careful and thoughtful stewardship of her collections. Rafaela’s subject knowledge was, and remains, crucial to the delivery of effective library service, the preservation of these collections and the future viability of the library. She always reminded me that the deferral of timely selection and purchase of materials, lax security and a lapse in reliable service can quickly destroy unique resources such as Chicana/o Studies collections.

Rafaela G. Castro was born in Bakersfield, California but grew up in Arvin, a small agricultural town near Weedpatch Camp, the labor camp featured in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. When she was ten years old her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she lived most of her life. After spending two years in Brazil with the Peace Corps, in the mid-1960s, she returned home to start her education. Attending UC Berkeley, she received degrees in English Literature, Library Science, and Folklore.

Rafaela’s academic library career spanned over thirty years, at community college and university libraries, and in teaching courses on Ethnic Bibliography and Chicana/o Studies at UC Berkeley’s School of Library and Information Studies and Ethnic Studies Department. In between these various positions she also worked at DQ University and Adelante, Inc., a non-profit organization in Berkeley. She retired from Shields Library at the University of California, Davis in 2004.

After completing the writing of a master’s thesis she discovered the joy of writing and wrote articles for Chicana/o Studies and academic library professional journals. She also wrote entries for folklore and biographical encyclopedias. During the 1990s Rafaela wrote opinion columns on Mexican American culture for the San Francisco Chronicle, and she contributed to “Perspectives,” a public affairs commentary series, on KQED-FM.

I last saw Rafaela during a scheduled presentation at a local area bookstore for her collection of personal essays Provocaciones: Letters From the Prettiest Girl in Arvin. I was immediately struck by the number of similarities we shared in our childhood and professional lives. I smile to myself as I write these lines given that I am a Nicaraguan by birth, disabled, and male! I hesitate to discuss the book because that would require an entire essay altogether. I highly recommend it!! True to the book’s subtitle Rafaela was graceful, modest, beautiful, strong…and passionate about what she experienced after leaving Arvin.

The many lessons that Rafaela taught me came into sharp relief during the student occupation of the UC Davis University Library in January 2010. I recall thinking if Rafaela were there she would be at the library entrance to DEFEND student spaces on campus, and LEAD workshops, talks, discussion groups, and film screenings, to help PROTEST cuts to library funding, student co-ops, and public education. Instead I led students on tours of what I still consider Rafaela’s collections. I was amused at the praise I received for the collections and all the more so because the materials Rafaela gathered provide greater context for what the students were protesting at the time. During Rafaela’s career at UC Davis (1989-2004), she was instrumental in the acquisition of the Ada Sosa-Riddell Papers, the Mario Obledo Papers, the Cruz Reynoso Papers, and the Chicana/o Studies archives. According to one of our retired archivists, Rafela’s most important service to Special Collections was “her constant willingness to refer students to our collections. She directed a doctoral researcher to the Jack Forbes papers regarding the participation of Chicanos in the founding of DQU.” When I corrected the students by noting how these collections predated my arrival they left knowing the library and the legacy of Rafaela’s work created a community space they could claim as their own.

I feel honored to have known Rafaela, and will always be grateful for her mentorship. The Chicana/o Studies collections she built at the University Library continue to serve both students and the community as a whole. It is a privilege to build on her work and steward this collection for future students and researchers. Rafaela Castro, Presente!

Roberto C. Delgadillo is a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian in Research Support Services at the UC Davis University Library.

Contending Worldviews in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead

by Theresa Delgadillo

This essay, originally prepared in 1996 for Professor Cherríe Moraga in her course on “Prophets/Scribes of Aztlán” at UCLA, has been updated and edited to meet Mujeres Talk requirements. Professor Moraga required students to do a kind of writing different from that typically required in a graduate seminar. She asked us to put ourselves into our critical work, and I took this to mean that we should write in a way that explicitly acknowledged the perspective from which we wrote, making clear and concrete, in writing, our investments and histories in the intellectual projects we undertake. For me, what it yielded was a creative non-fiction essay about a piece of literature, a form different than the academic article and made more so here through editing into a blog essay, a form that also calls upon authors to share more of oneself that one might in an academic journal. The blog essay is also a form necessarily focused on a small part of the literature under discussion, meant to provoke reflection, discussion, and further reading. I refer interested readers to the many excellent articles on Silko’s novel on the MLA International Bibliography.

In Almanac of the Dead (1991) Leslie Marmon Silko re-writes the history of the encounter between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the Americas. It is no longer the story of “civilization” meeting the barbarians, not the moment at which Indians begin to disappear, but a brutal, cunning, bloody, savage conquest that spawns equally brutal societies. It is almost as if Silko, in one massive novel, attempts to reverse generations of schooling on the history of this continent, though one has to be open and ready to hear new stories in order to understand the Almanac.

Growing up Chicana anywhere in the United States presents many challenges to one’s “story,” because our experience is undervalued or denied. We live in a nation where ours is not the official story, and yet it is ours. Like the speaker in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poem who says, “I’m marked by the color of my skin” (35-7), so, too, have I been marked in every school I’ve been in since childhood. Though I knew it from my first day in school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I only began to understand it in seventh grade. One of my older brothers gave me a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), which I read while my Social Studies class studied the period of westward expansion into the Dakotas and the Black Hills Gold Rush. I was stunned by the glaring difference in these narratives. The two books had completely different things to say about the same events. While Indians were nowhere to be found in the school textbook, they were everywhere in Dee Brown’s account, prompting me to ask our teacher about this discrepancy.

My question to the teacher was not simply about facts or words, it was, as Linda Hogan says, about “ways of thinking and being in the world” (12). Around that time, there were a series of marches and protests by Wisconsin Native Americans in the news. Having already been mistaken for Native American, I knew that discriminatory treatment toward Native Americans was not unlike that directed against Mexican Americans. I was disturbed by how our textbook completely erased Native American peoples from history. Our teacher, however, insisted that our textbook was accurate. He dismissed my question. When I tried to explain what Dee Brown reveals in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, he told me to be quiet. I continued, but the teacher yelled at me. I then did something completely surprising to all, myself included: I yelled back. Another supervising teacher was called in. Lots of tense whispering, then the bell rang, and so did discussion.

When I read Almanac of the Dead, I thought back to this youthful confrontation with history. Today, I also have to wonder about where Latina/os were in that curriculum, but back then I was just beginning to understand then what the novel illustrates so well — the difference between dominant history and story/ies/histories. A conception of history in the singular as the static and unchangeable past shields it from inquiry and allows it to be compartmentalized and separated from both the present and the future. New knowledge cannot alter it. History in that sense is perhaps why the teacher could not accept another version of the same events in the Dakota Hills and why he did not even consider it important enough to discuss–the events were safely in the past and therefore not of major concern, not to mention that Dee Brown’s version of events was in conflict with the textbook narrative.

In Almanac of the Dead, there are two conceptions of the past diametrically opposed to one another: dominant history versus story/ies/histories. These distinct conceptions are really competing worldviews and they create conflicts for individual characters, who must decide which view will guide their lives. One character who experiences this conflict is Sterling:

[He] had been carefully following advice printed recently in a number of magazines concerning depression and the best ways of combating it. He had purposely been living in the present moment as much as he could. One article had pointed out that whatever has happened to you had already happened and can’t be changed. Spilled milk. But Sterling knows he’s one of those old-fashioned people who has trouble forgetting the past no matter how bad remembering might be for chronic depression. (24)

The past Sterling wants to forget is his banishment from Laguna Pueblo, yet he was raised on the stories of his Pueblo, including the dispossessions and indignities imposed upon them by  government and dominant knowledge systems (31). He cannot forget one portion of the past without forgetting it all. He enjoys reading the Police Gazette, with its stories of criminals past, in part, because this is one place where Indians to appear in the history of the West with some attempt at understanding their perspective (39-40).

An awareness of the contrast between dominant history and story/histories also operates for the character of Clinton, who, as an African-American Vietnam veteran now homeless, tracks on the discrepancies between the two. Clinton remains highly critical of what he learns in university classes  yet he also finds there, in Black Studies, research that confirms his sense of his people as more than mere pawns of history, and gains a wealth of knowledge on the experiences and cultures of Blacks (414-431). When he critically recalls how wealthy Cherokee Indians had been rounded up by orders of Andrew Jackson, Clinton insists that a “a people’s history” must include all the stories: “That was why a people had to know their history, even the embarrassments when bad judgment had got them slaughtered by the millions” (415).

In the novel, characters who refuse the stories of others are racked with fear, and in the novel, doomed to failure. As Linda Hogan observes, “the Western tradition of beliefs within a straight line of history leads to an apocalyptic end” (93). This is what the characters Beaufrey and Serlo see in the future–cities burning and anarchy reigning–which is why they want to develop modules to survive in space (542). An apocalyptic ending is also what the character Menardo sees and why he is obsessed with insurance and security (266). In the novel, his first wife, Iliana, too, proud of the historical pedigree of having been descended from the conquistador De Oñate “still was gnawed by the fear that disaster was stalking all of them” (270). That fear is also one shared and preyed upon in the novel by characters representing the military regimes of Latin America and their U.S. collaborators.

Another view of the future emerges in the novel from the character of the Barefoot Hopi, who presents a perspective challenging for humans when he says:

            You destroyers….don’t know how much the spirits of these continents despise you, how the earth hates you….All the riches ripped from the heart of the earth will be reclaimed by the oceans and mountains. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of enormous magnitude will devastate the accumulated wealth of the Pacific Rim. (734)

Unlike Serlo’s view or Menardo’s view, this prediction of cataclysmic events is not a prediction of end, but of beginning. In the Hopi’s view, the world does not revolve around humans and therefore the end of things human is not a catastrophe. He predicts that the Earth will cleanse itself and continue; this he does not fear. His view parallels Yoeme’s, who says that the sacred Earth “would go on, [it] would outlast anything man did to it” (718). This is what Sterling comes to understand, too: “Burned and radioactive, with all humans dead, the earth would still be sacred. Man was too insignificant to desecrate her” (762). In the course of the novel, several characters arrive at this understanding of the earth’s story, and must re-consider human interaction with it. Yet, do the Barefoot Hopi’s words leave us off the hook for what happens to the Earth or inspire responsibility?

The old woman Yoeme’s notebook, carried by the children in the novel, says, “sacred time is always in the Present” (136). Though it may sound like the same message of the magazines Sterling reads to cope with depression, it is not. Instead, it is akin to what Linda Hogan’s grandmother articulates: “Our work is our altar” (148); or what Hogan herself describes as “what happens to people and what happens to the land is the same thing” (89). The idea of the sacred in the present recognizes the web of existence that links humans with the natural world. It is also an idea that imposes demands on characters in this novel. As Silko says in an article in Artforum, “for the old people, no one person or thing is better than another; hierarchies presuming superiority and inferiority are considered absurd.”

The conception of story in the novel knits together past, present, and future. Story is alive and everything has a story, but not the same one. Story in this novel is not only the narratives characters create to make meaning of life, but movements and experiences of peoples, the variety of plants and animals in the natural world, the Earth itself. To embrace story appears as a way to embrace a worldview that accepts the interconnectedness of organisms through time.

Many characters in Almanac struggle to make sense of their story, trying to fit their past with their present and future. Some try to forget their own story and instead embrace history, like Menardo; some are rejected because they are evidence of a past that their families want to forget, like Root; some think that their own history is everybody’s history, like Bartolomeo; some see only part of the past and therefore mistakenly think they know what the future will be, like Beaufrey and Serlo; some make connections between other stories and their own and organize people to act with others, such as Angelita and El Feo; some people tell their own stories/histories, such as Clinton, Tacho, the Barefoot Hopi, Wilson Weasel Tail Clinton, Angelita and Lecha; while others, most, struggle to understand the relationship between their stories and other stories. Like the children carrying the pages of the almanac north (246-253), each person in Silko’s novel carries a story that is incomplete without the other stories/histories.

The almanac-carrying children are fleeing “the Butcher” who is enslaving and murdering their tribe, an allusion to both a historical genocide and contemporary circumstances forcing children to flee north. In this storyline, the novel represents the very real experience of the Yaqui tribe, who created a testamento of their creation and their land that is passed down today in handwritten notebooks, and even, as Evers and Molina point out, has been carried by messengers who had the document sewn into their clothes (32). Like Silko’s fictional almanac, both a document and an oral story altered with the additions of each narrator, it is expected and necessary that the Yaqui testamento be “unfixed” by those re-telling it (Evers and Molina 23). These are only two examples of the many stories and histories that are embedded in Almanac of the Dead.

As the character Clinton points out in the Almanac, denying people their histories helps to ensure submission and subordination (431), cutting people off from the stories of their ancestors means stranding them in madness and meanness (424). The novel seems to ask us: Do we recognize story/ies/histories, recognize “differences” as Calabazas says (203), and learn from them? Or do we continue to privilege destruction?

Works Cited

Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Emplumada. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981.

Evers, Larry and Felipe S. Molina. “The Holy Dividing Line: Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture.” Journal of the Southwest. 34:1. (1992): 3-46.

Hogan, Linda. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. New York: Norton, 1995.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Almanac of the Dead. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. “The Fourth World.” Artforum. 28:10. (1989): 124-125.

Theresa Delgadillo is an Associate Professor of Comparative Studies and Coordinator of the Latina/o Studies Program at The Ohio State University. She has served as Editor of Mujeres Talk since January 2011.