Envisioning Everreddening: Ensuring Native Environmental, Political, and Artistic Futures

There is something about the long gaze, uninterrupted, and the deeper dwelling, up close, how the eye is pulled near and far, a continual alternation, narration, of big and small. So is a vision braided.

Years ago, years before I had personally been blessed to experience the vastness of the prairies, I remember reading the words of Cree/Métis writer, Marilyn Dumont, constellated amongst the vast written and oral literatures of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women and Two-Spirit writers, and her and other prairie-based Indigenous writers’ description of homelands as oceanic, sea-like, undulating grasslands—intersecting with other echoing ecosystems, interrupted by invasion and urbanization, nevertheless Native—insistently, resistently still Indigenous territories of text and topography, linking nation and narration, sovereignly, speculatively, long before the phrase “Indigenous futurisms” entered my ears and blessed my eyes. Framed thus were these territories, respectfully paced, spaced, protocols that would train my tongue how to speak, with reverence, and my steps, so I would know how to enter and how to leave, dwell, how to be in relation to place, space, and the peoples of those places, spaces. As Mvskoke writer, Joy Harjo, describes, how to have your presence in other Native people’s territory be “a blessing rather than a curse.”

Indigenous women’s and Two-Spirit voices continue to weave back and forth across the colonial divide of the U.S./Canadian border, in synergy with women of colour and queer/trans people of colour artistic activisms, that seek to build solidarities across settler nation-states.

As a child conceived in Niagara Falls, born in the Bronx, with loved ones across both sides of the border, I am deeply grateful for the twined legacies of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in New York and Sister Vision: Black Women and Women of Colour Press in Ontario, and all the other diverse presses and publications from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, before and after, which envision and manifest transnational womanist maps for our movements and communities.

Anthologies such as A Gathering of Spirit: A Collection by North American Indian Women, which first appeared as an issue of Sinister Wisdom, edited by queer Kanien’kehá:ka writer, Beth Brant, and The Colour of Resistance: A Contemporary Collection of Writing by Aboriginal Women, edited by queer Cree writer, Connie Fife, and solo texts by queer Menominee writer, Chrystos, and queer Esselen/Chumash writer, Deborah A. Miranda, remain genealogically important as community-affirming, -envisioning, and -organizing tools. They create and retrace pathways into knowing larger circles of Indigenous womanist and Two-Spirit pasts, presences, and futures. They make our lives more possible, our paths more purposeful and passionate, plentiful and plural.

I know a place through its peoples. I know a people through their places. I am prepared to enter and exist within territory by the relations I make with its, their relations.

Driving north from Tulsa, where I have lived at the intersection of Mvskoke, Cherokee, and Osage Nations, I know whose territory I am traveling through because I know these Nations, north and south of the imposed Oklahoma/Kansas border, because they have blessed me with the opportunity to know them and live in relation to them.

The longer I am in Oklahoma, Kansas, this region, the clearer it is to me how I must reaffirm and deepen my commitment to prairie tribal Nations, to the peoples of this place, these places, and all the places and peoples they were and remain, prior to and after removal, relocation. A commitment to sovereign futures, and continued continuance as peoples, Nations.

Sometimes one is pulled joyfully in multiple directions, each seeking our attention. Sometimes it is okay to delight in the dizziness, before choosing where to land and fix one’s gaze.

Biodiversity is strengthened by Native presence, leadership, sovereignty, White Earth Anishinaabe writer and environmental organizer, Winona LaDuke, has argued in her life/work. One of the things non-Native people can do is support that (returned) presence, leadership, sovereignty. One of the thing artist residencies across Turtle Island can do is commit to Native peoples, Native Nations, Native creativity and resiliency.There are four federally recognized tribal Nations existing within the boundaries of Kansas, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, to which artistic, environmental, and all other organizations in Kansas can make stronger commitments. By centering and supporting the citizens of these Nations, as well as the forty-nine federally recognized Native Nations existing within the boundaries of Oklahoma, and the tribal Nations existing through the prairie region, artist residencies can further Native, ecological, and artistic futures.

Some of our most profound experiences were not on land, but in water. Swimming most days, having swum since I was one month old, each return to the water reminded of the vastness we experienced everywhere. How to sit with that, rock, be swayed.

We all respond to geographies imprinted upon us. I most relate to woodlands, mountains, lakes, valleys, rivers, streams, brooks, the ocean. Four distinct seasons. When I see elements of home, I breathe easier.

I grew up urban and rural, a child of both city and country. I knew waters—fresh, salt, chlorine—and swam in them from earliest memory, prememory. Mother wanted this, guided this, anticipated and insisted upon it. There was knowledge, survival and joy, in the water. One needed to form a relationship with it. Wherever it pooled, coursed, whenever it gathered from sky. Swimming with her, some of my fondest memories. As did we watch the night skies, day, whenever thunder and lightning gathered. We would count the seconds in between, calculate distance, nearness. Gather candles, puzzles, kerosene, cards. We would anticipate the power outtages. Rejoice in them. Revel in quiet time. I grew up with a love for the rain, snow, darkness, each time a water blessed us. I knew it was not a given—extreme drought—gave thanks.

Here I traveled with friend, and from the Northeast and archipelagoes across the Atlantic, we sought water, found it, rejoiced in it. Talked story as we reimmersed, submerged. The prairie and its dew, mist, rivers and creeks, lakes, mirrors to remind us of the territories we called home, that shaped us, shape us still, and to which we live in responsibility.

We find ourselves in times of intense ecological and political upheaveal. We can learn from each other across ecosystems, across organizing paradigms, sharing traditional knowledge of how to live in relation to our lands and waters, how to shape our social movements. Prepare for what is coming, shape who we become and what we summon. Interdependent, we must learn together to ensure futures that creatively resist and insist upon Nativity, biodiversity, sovereignty, equality, democracy.

I think of who my leaders are, across movements, inside, outside, structures, dwellings. It is important to name those who prepare the paths we walk upon, which we seek to further.

Queer Ho-Chunk U.S. House Representative in Kansas, Sharice Davids; Yup’ik U.S. House Representative in Alaska, Mary Peltola; White Earth Anishinaabe Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, Peggy Flanagan; and Laguna Pueblo U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland give me hope. Perhaps they will become the first Native women U.S. Senators. First Native woman U.S. President. We can dream, work towards those dreams. How necessary they are, like water fed to us by our beforemothers.

As I work to support their campaigns, I reflect on how autumn is a time of renewal. We plant and harvest. We gather what we sow, sew. We prepare for winter so that next year’s spring is a joyful, hopeful one. One we can pass on to future generations. So we continue weaving.

Sometimes you get to see strands of a spider web dance in the breeze at sunset. Something you might have walked through, by, if you didn’t stop to notice. Sometimes that sunset is endless. May it sovereignly be so, cyclical, renewing, eternally Native. An everreddening renewal, wrapped in darkest night.

In which we dream.

Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán is a multimedia artist, activist/organizer, critic, and educator. A Tulsa Artist Fellow and National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, he convened a Movement Research Studies Project, “Decolonial Design, Indigenous Choreography, and Multicorporeal Sovereignties: A Womanist/Queer/Trans Indigenous Movement Dialogue.” A Movement Research Artists of Color Council Core Member, he creates multimedia movement work with womanist/queer/trans Indigenous and people of color artists, educators, and organizers. Bodhrán is author of the poetry/photography collections, Archipiélagos; Antes y después del Bronx: Lenapehoking; and South Bronx Breathing Lessons. His visual art is exhibited in New York, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Bodhrán is editor of the international queer Indigenous issue of Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought; and co-editor of the Native dance/movement/performance issue of Movement Research Performance Journal. Co-founder of the world’s first transgender film festival, now known as the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, his work appears in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. He organized/moderated the first transgender people of color panel at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair, and organized the world’s first transgender Arab roundtable dialogue for Sinister Wisdom. He has received scholarships/fellowships from CantoMundo, Macondo, the Radius of Arab American Writers, Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, and Lambda Literary.