America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Current (2005), acrylic on steel, 18 x 18 in, part of the Greater Vehicle series
America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Current (2005), acrylic on steel, 18 x 18 in, part of the Greater Vehicle series

The innovator isn’t important. It’s whoever has the watershed moment.
– Travis Hedge Coke

We haven’t slept since September. Some of us, since we remember. Not the real sleep, the deep-down cloud dreams. We do dream encoded loaded maze of meaning, circling consciousness, streaming before we are wakeful to undo, rearrange perspective, begin seeing. It is reason, dreaming.

They’re shooting people.

Water is life.

In another time, not long ago, I 
might have
found you face up in a field of 
silence among the still-
beautiful bodies of Dakota men. 
To speak
for the land: even our history is 
against us here.
– Karenne Wood, “To Keep Faith”

Our texts and emails, cryptic. The liminal space we dwell in, funneling channel flow to stimulate strategy, support, to manifest our way of being, use ourselves as conduits to change the onslaught we muddle through. It is the plunther we feel that feeds impetus, writing, reading, breathing. We muster each agonizing proof as colonialism chiefs its way, no matter the era. The more insidious, the more it manages to find colluders, investment stakeholders. 

It’s day twenty in the electoral college coup new world order. Day five, the latest colonial figurehead-led coup, executive order inked, chased time from existence, from its place protecting water from awkward penetration by drills meant to inhabit the black snake seeping toxic ssssss, the millions of years old, sometimes hundreds of millions of years old anaerobic decomposition of thunder lizard deep beyond the airless brine water walls. The tyrant’s invested. Along with seventeen banks, hundreds of entities, with hunger for power and wealth despite the health of the planet or her people. Rubber bullets, concussion grenades, water cannons, pepper spray, tasers, brute force, and psychological torture on US and Western Hemispheric Tribal Nation citizens, including journalists covering protectors praying, singing, dancing, willing to sacrifice themselves to spare clean water. This is what we’ve come to in the colonial mad world. Not a step away from Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, from Mankato, since September they’ve blown up an arm, detached a retina, bloodied, bruised, frozen, battered, imprisoned, ethnic cleansing–like numbered, all for oil, for a pipe that will eventually deteriorate and leak, ruining water forever, for millions.

You can’t drink oil.

Water is life.

I finger pelican bones, mollusk shells,
A piece of down; I cherry pick
– Tiffany Midge, “Oil Spill”

It is said dinosaurs, the oil plume, left the world when a pelican opened his eyes and shot lightning and his mouth thundered. They left the world when they had grown so big everything else was endangered. They had outgrown the planet and the planet needed to survive, and has. The remnants of the lizard decomposition below us now, like all else, once inhabited the ground before ice age turned it over. It is deeply seeded into earth and not meant to see light of day in this world, this time we know on earth. Its entangled and hammered spirit seeps beneath us and fills a space that would be who knows what in the mystery of the planet if this tragedy had not befallen them. 

Species, like writers, are not born all on the same day with the same scope and wants and do not die all at once even in times of mass extinction.

It is important to not reduce dinosaurs to lizards, or we cannot from studies or definitions alone tell them apart. It is important to remember lizards lived alongside dinosaurs, that species, like writers, are not born all on the same day with the same scope and wants and do not die all at once even in times of mass extinction.

                             a lone whale 
singing at a frequency

of around 52 hertz
has cruised the ocean since 1992.
Its calls, despite being clearly
those of a baleen,

do not match those of any
known species of whale,
– Deborah Miranda, “Ishi at Large”

Alongside Big Sioux River, a Missouri tributary, at the site formally called Blood Run, now Good Earth, a twin of the serpent mound in Ohio once reined prairie. Copper bracelets were taken from graves overturned by looters for generations before the site was protected. The bracelets formed serpents. Elders said they represent the river, her life-form, serpentlike.

In 1993 my son was twelve, his braid cut by a stepfather he never should have met. My mother took the braid he carried crying. Feel it, she said, it holds life. We took it in our hands, felt the source; strong, beautiful, electric static shock. She asked him to hold it then let it go, ask it for renewal. He did as instructed, and it lay in her cedar chest until her death and his return from teaching in China, decades later. It felt like a snake, I said to remind him. That life-form, his innocent years embodied in the braid. We cherish it in a special place, hold it from time to time. We remember it snakelike, waterlike, charging current for the personal body of water, body of life—the child—

Water is life. 

Water is life. There is nothing we know alive not sustained with water. Tardigrades, water bears, exist within water, can go thirty years without a slake, but slake they must. Everything live, drinks in.

Day thirteen, the Republican-led senate voted to remove the Stream Protection Rule, originally instituted to protect watersheds from coal dumping.

Day nineteen, 45 says: I haven’t had one phone call. 

Writing this in the wake of an immigrant’s son banning immigrants from countries whereas he owns no gas or oil and welcoming whereas he is invested financially in resources and golf courses, his team of maniacs and Leninite wrangler damming and spoiling what plenty is left as tactile measurement of what they will bill for in the future. Strangle the people and the ruler rules without question. 

In his third book, Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933), Óta Kté (Luther Standing Bear, who was an early Carlisle Indian School boarder) made a case for justice for American Indian people and the ecosystem. 

The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien. And he still hates the man who questioned his path across the continent.

There is, I insist, no Indian problem as created by the Indian himself. Every problem that exists today in regard to the native population is due to the white man’s cast of mind, which is unable, at least reluctant, to seek understanding and achieve adjustment in a new and a significant environment into which it has so recently come.

Within a year of the book’s press date, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, creating the IRA system plaguing sovereignty issues to this day. With it, the sad state stranglehold cutting breath of life, damming, spoiling waterways, circling back, back, back again, with every monstrous cycle, each doomsday figurehead, threatening death, devastation, unless the captives sign, agree, or die. 

Standing Bear and his peers answered current calls for justice. 

The next civil-rights era debut works almost always spoke directly to the political injustices experienced in their emerging days and before. The time was the occupation at Alcatraz, the march on DC, Incident at Oglala, Wounded Knee, Karen Silkwood/Kerr-McGee, coal, petroleum, nuclear power plants, Vietnam War, and any related manifestation of coming home or leaving, by choice or not. Ideologies in opposition to the oppressor. Belonging or longing to belong. Successive generations of Native writers came up becoming aware, becoming increasingly educated on the accomplishments of and limitations established in what was termed a Renaissance, and what ebb and flow is distinguished in each successive departure.

Writers stream. We come together at gatherings, like the storytellers, singers, stimulated by knowledge bringers and gestured toward one another along waterways we call home.

Writers stream. We come together at gatherings, like the storytellers, singers, stimulated by knowledge bringers and gestured toward one another along waterways we call home. Whether you gather water from a river, stream, stone puddles, within plants, or in cupped leaves, you must have water to survive, and if you befriend the source you find an entire biosphere opens up within your view. 

Water is life.

Yearning for waves so far from any shore.
– Heid Erdrich, “Liminal”

Invasion Quincentennial, 1992, central flyway, Norman, Oklahoma, near Lake Thunderbird and adjacent to the Canadian River floodplain, Oklahoma waters eventually flowing to Eufaula Lake and into the Arkansas, and so the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Returning the Gift. University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1992. It was a confluence of many effluents, the most celebrated first- and second-wave Native Renaissance. Trauma examinations: the Quincentennial and the twenty-first-century turn. The departure into the cusp of twenty-first-century Native Literature was already evident in a bussed-in crew, emerging poets and writers also leaned and led, and through time they traded places and still serve the point though many others have come forward to fill that space and to allow them to be themselves and enjoy the plenty, out of respect, and earned place as elders in the midst.

From where behind you ancient light enters. A fissure
in the propriety of reason.
– Kim Blaeser, “A Crane Language” 

With the busload from the Sangre de Cristos, a dozen new IAIA writers readied to meet up with the whole. It was a year of reckoning, quincentennial of invasion that destroyed so many of their ancestors, the atmosphere forever changed and methane swarmed in place of oxygen and some say the birth of climate change today, these killings. 

connecting the ink-soaked shores of our name less bodies
to anchors of swans
coughing dune sand onto a dry riverbed.
– Sherwin Bitsui, “Flood Song”

Water is life.

On the Platte River each spring we deerwalk out into starry night. We move through night immersed in chortling sax throaty love songs, those warrior guard birds, the sandhill cranes, standing in shallows far from predator reach. By the time the first deer comes to river, predawn, to begin mitigated maze of day, scout cranes have already checked nearby fields for plenty, for corn stubble, GMO King corn, corn replacing traditional diets of snail, but tasty all the same. They’ve come to alert their clan, to cry news to the rivered camp. Some crane, already positioned up on a shallow sandbar, will decide itself leader and simply lean toward the direction they’ve been summoned to, hold its lean there. If the others trust this leadership, they too will lean behind it in the same direction until together they will lift, and if all has been quiet until this point, and no danger realized, they will seem a huge cloud of chortling cheers, nearly sounding like a stadium crowd at tremendous point gain. 

If they do not trust this self-appointed offering of leadership, they will wait for another to lean and go with that lean and the initial volunteer will join in. Scouts sent, break rank, out into the world, come back and cry knowledge, share secrets, and we too move behind who we believe the best to lead, or volunteer ourselves to guide the flow, head out together into the venture, and, like the cranes, a few of us will stay behind to keep the place, just in case, and join up later, when we are hungry enough for food, or company of our kin. The cranes have been doing this for nine million years, or more. In this exact place, though it was an inland sea, Cretaceous Seaway, Niobraran Sea, rich with Claosaurus before this time, and the Platte has only been here the past twelve to fourteen thousand years.

Water is life.

Water bearer, wear the water beside me
Hide your burying shadow from the shorebirds.
But heed the tides that cover you nightly.
– Chip Livingston, “Punta del Este Pantoum”

The only roaring emitted from traces of dinosaurs is that of the massive drills that pummel into the earth to retrieve the decay and syphon it up, then manipulate it and create caustic waste to unleash a black snake through pipelines to fuel tanks of vehicles that should be fired by sustainable energy, in this day and time. Or the roaring earth when split by injected brine that was drawn from way below, alongside the remains, and hasn’t met air for eons, yet filled a space there and then drawn up to blast and frack more petroleum or natural gas, unleash more life force from way under, long gone, and push the earth, creating fissures, until the earth fights back and shakes or shivers, quivers quakes from being defiled.

To placate the fear of our bodies returning back 
into our mother
Demand awakening
The path we have taken has rotted
Ignite, stand upright, conduct yourself like 
– Tanya Tagaq, “Retribution

Water is life.

The busload flying in met their predecessors, their kin, old enemies, and strangers, too. A first meeting anyone could remember it had been so long. They shared their poems, songs, stories, and tales, their craft technique, their ways of reasoning and working, and they danced and strategized and planned for more togetherness and gathering along their lifespans and more. They also realized trends set by the early crew, the two distinct yet gathered waves of renaissance were of a time and place before and still sustaining for those within those channel flows. Three hundred writers flew in together, like an epicenter gathering, like the Gathering of Nations, or March Powwow, but writers dancing.

Unlike the thunder lizards, so like the cranes (in Luther Standing Bear’s time, settler-colonists intentionally annihilated down from millions to five breeding pair), once protected, shielded in the staging place, they rekindled themselves, they resumed, returned, replenished, found survivance and leaned into it, like water, they relished there. 

Water is life.

In Sandhill nesting grounds, along other riverways, alongside lakes, or within range of springs or streams, the same cranes gathering annually on the Platte fanned out into all points north, into original birthplaces of all their recent ancestors, whereas their stories are vastly different in each of those kinship extensions. Their returns in the fall to wintering grounds take them to independent places. Their lives invariably shaped by geographies and waterscapes of their own homes, much like people. Still, they come together every year to share, to work out plans, to ensure their young have suitable mates, traveling with proposed couples to teach them how to provide for their own young and to learn the distinct area that will become breeding and nesting grounds for the new couple, who quite possibly have already severed one of the new pair’s ancestral generation’s geography line. 

The waterways have changed over millennia. What was inland sea, now land tethered by waterways that still call cranes home, year after year.

becuz, while my daughter is sleeping, i will chant to her, my people’s word for water:

“hanom, hanom, hanom,” so her dreams of water carry us home

becuz water is life, water is life, water is life

– Craig Santos Perez, “Chanting the Waters” (2016)

As waterways change, move through time, they develop. Each change in watershed begets changes along longer pathway, change continues accordingly. While one waterway breaks out, another corresponds sharing impetus, influenced by other stimuli, breaks out in new ways. These emerging movements may or may not share rules, tenets, manifestations, yet as they occur simultaneously, similarities exist by current states of surrounding landscapes, climate conditions, or not. 

But a sheet of water
doesn’t travel with the wave
– Jennifer Elise Foerster, “The Last Kingdom”

What we have now is not a school or a group but a contemporary flow from political tides.
Water is life.

Because she died where the ravine falls into water.

Because they dragged her down to the creek.

– Elise Paschen, “Wi’-gi-e”

Since the renaissance days, what currents call contemporary attention include nationalism as assertion with the quincentennial and the Gulf War era, the arrival of public internet and social media, the twenty-first-century turn, 9/11, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, war in Northwest Pakistan, Deep Water Horizon, fracking and disposal water environmental disasters and earthquakes, Keystone Pipeline, Alberta Tar Sands disaster, DAPL, Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin, Red Warrior and other camps for #noDAPL, on the Cannonball, Lake Oahe, all flowing into the Missouri, and so the Mississippi, and down to the Gulf, just below Ft. Thompson, where my grandkids’ other grandmother is a citizen. Concerned for the protectors as well as the river, knowing the history of massacre on the Plains, with the criminal national election and Morton County excessive force, no way to sleep through last fall or winter.

#StandwithStandingRock. The Constitution of the United States currently challenged by the inauguration of a real-estate tycoon, son of an immigrant, husband of immigrants, billionaire tyrant and the executive-order and/or GOP-led removal of protection of clean water in streams, attempted reversal of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for DAPL, new laws that attempt to legalize mowing down of protestors in roadways, making protest illegal, censoring the press, removal of white supremacists from terrorist groups, and banning people the tyrant doesn’t do personal business with. #nobansonstolenlands 

Because she had inherited head rights for oil 
      beneath the land. [. . .]
Because she was murdered. The leg clutchers 
      blossomed. [. . .]
During Xtha-cka Zhi-ga Tse-the, the Killer of 
      the Flowers Moon
I will wade across the river of the blackfish, the 
      otter, the beaver.
– Elise Paschen, “Wi’-gi-e”

Water is life. 

We took it as an omen for the camps in wait since April, when one of the twins drowned in Lake Oahe on July 18, 2016. They say a woman appeared and floated him to shore where he was revived and airlifted to Bismarck, put down into coma so his atrophied lungs could rekindle themselves. I blamed myself for swimming to the center of Lake Angostura, over and over, right in front of them. 

Contingencies chipped in and called him back and he returned—awake. 

No one knows who the woman was or where she appeared from.

Water is life.

Riverside, California

Photo: Shane Brown

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s books include The Year of the Rat; Dog Road Woman; Off-Season City Pipe; Blood Run; Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas; Effigies I & II; Rock, Ghost Willow, Deer; Burn; and Streaming. Awards include an American Book Award, a King-Chavez-Parks Award, an NWCA Lifetime Achievement Award, and a 2016 Library of Congress Witter Bynner Fellowship. She directs the Literary Sandhill CraneFest in Nebraska and is currently Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.