- Excerpt from "Children of Fire, Children of Water:Memory and Trauma"
Three round kivas. Walls of stone. Upright and perpendicular to sky. And to the land sloping away to the east where flood waters from Kaweshtima flowed. Dirt under our shoes. Dirt on our hands. We looked at the uncovered homesite. Kaamah-tsaishruuh. A sacred place. Holy homeplace. Stone walls. I didn't know what to say to Larry. What could I say? What could I explain? Duwaa-sha-ah haatse. This is our land. He was four years old in 1960. I was nineteen years old in 1960. This is our land. An uncle guide, advisor, counselor. Protector and teacher. What could I say? What is the explanation then? Is there any explanation possible? A highway is to be built through here. Our ancestors lived here long ago. [End Page 9] Baabahtitra eh Naanahtitra. Grandmothers and Grandfathers. They built the kivas and the walls. Now another people have come. They have gained right of way. Soon the kamaah-tsaishruuh will vanish. What kind explanation is that?
In 1999 my lawyer son could have gone to prison upon conviction of a felony charge he was facing. For assaulting another Indian lawyer with a knife. There was alcohol involved. You've heard it before. It is an old story. It has become a classic story. Yes, you've heard it before. I'm sure you have. It is Indian fighting Indian. It is a colonized man fighting another colonized man. Like I said, it's an old story. When the legal and judicial process was ended and things had settled down, my son came "home" to speak with his mother and me. Afterward he returned to his job in Washington, D.C., and tried to put the sundered pieces of his life together again. Soon I received a letter from him, saying, "I want to come home." It was a plaintive, simple statement: I want to come home. The plaintive and simple statement became a question for me: Where and what is home anymore? For a Native American, where and what is "home" anymore? Before the reservation system was put into place by the federal government, Indigenous lands were homelands. That was where home was. It was easy to know where home was. But after Indigenous lands were designated reservations, the idea of home changed. The plaintive and simple statement became an ambiguous question: Has the concept of "home" changed so much for Indian people they do not know what they are talking about? And further, it has become the question: What's home anymore?
My four-year-old nephew Larry stood by the open pit of the Indigenous "ruin," looking into the circular kivas and staring at the upright stone walls that had been violated by the researchers who preceded the construction engineers. And that would soon be obliterated by the interstate highway construction. Piles of sand, clay, crumbled stone, and tiny bits of shattered pottery shards lay to the [End Page 10] side in mounds. Archeological and anthropological researchers had been there from the local university. The mounds were their debris. As his teacher, adviser, counselor, protector, what could I say to my beloved nephew Larry? What could I explain? This is the land of our ancestor grandmothers and grandfathers. Therefore this land is our land too. Could I say that? Should I have said that? Could I explain and identify who tore open the kaamah-tsaishruh, the sacred place? Who could I say gave the permission for the destruction to happen? What was the authority cited when the walls of the ancient homesite were destroyed? What kind of explanation would that have been?
Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo) is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and storyteller. He has received many awards, including the "Returning the Gift" Lifetime Achievement Award, the WESTAAF Lifetime Achievement Award, the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in Art, and awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, and Lannan Foundation's Artists in Residence. He is currently a professor of literature and Aboriginal studies at the University of...