"The State's claim that it seeks in no way to deprive


Simon Ortiz

"The State's claim that it seeks in no way to deprive Indians of their rightful share of water, but only to define that share, falls on deaf ears."
an April 1974 editorial comment in the Albuquerque Journal
It was beloved old man Clay who used to say:

"It was in 1882, it was they came, and they said that they would measure up our land. They said it was to assure us of how much land we owned. It was true that there were those of us who did not believe that our concern was their purpose, and we did not want them here. But they did send their men around our villages and our fields, and they measured how much land there was, and sometime later - it didn't take them very long - they told us what their findings came out to be and that now we could rest assured that the land was recorded and filed away in their government papers."

The cosmos is measured by American-made satellites, the land is being razed by Kennecott Copper and Anaconda Corporation monstrosities, and our land has been defined by the RIGHT OF WAY secured by American RAILROADS, ELECTRIC LINES, GAS LINES, HIGHWAYS, PHONE COMPANIES, CABLE TV.


My father explained it to me this way,
"When the railroad was first built,
the land was drawn up into townships
and portions of the land were set aside
for schools, grazing, and public utilities.
And then we exchanged some land
with the railroads. They gave us land,
and we gave them some land."
It was only later I figured out that
"they" meant the USA which had given
the railroad the right of way
through our land and also allotted
them land so that what the railroad did
was "give" that land in exchange to us
who were the right of way.

When I was a ten-year-old altar boy,
there were photographs of the railroad
on the church sacristy walls.
They showed 1920 cars and men working
at laying track. there used to be
a watering stop for steam engines
near the church and the American man
who ran the pumps was named McCarty
and that's why the village, Deetseyamah,
I come from is called McCartys
on the official state maps.


At first, the electric lines ran
only alongside the railroad tracks
but later they connected up the homes
in Deetseyamah and Deechuma with the lines.
Those electric lines connect up Aacqu
with America.

When they were putting up the lines,
there was this machine.
The machine had a long shiny drill
which it pointed at the ground
and almost suddenly there was a hole
in the ground and the machine
drove on to another spot.
A couple of days later, a truck came
and threw long black poles
into the holes. At that age
I didn't know much of anything,
and when my younger brothers and sisters
asked me what was going on
I probably told them some lie.


The El Paso Natural Gas pipeline
blew up in the spring of 1966.
Old man Tomato told us what he was doing
on that early morning. He had just gone
out to piss outside his home
and had just come back inside
and was lying on his bed.
"I was singing a hunting song,
and then all of a sudden there was
this strange feeling and then I looked
out the window to the east and saw a light
over the hill beyond Dahska, but I knew
that it wasn't about to be dawn yet."

He told us that at the meeting in Acomita
where the El Paso Natural Gas man said
his company was sorry and they would
send money to make restitution very soon.

The El Paso Natural Gas company ran
through our best garden and left stones.
I was at Indian Boarding School at the time
and so I didn't see it coming through.
It wouldn't have made any difference
whether or not I'd seen it coming through
or whether we'd put a garden in that spring
because it would have come through anyway.
Nobody and nothing could stop it coming through.


In 1952, the Felipe brothers led Nash Garcia
down U.S. 66 onto the reservation
and killed that State cop a few miles east
of Black Mesa. The State panicked
for a couple of months and the brothers
got sent to Federal pen for life.

One night during the Korean War,
my parents and I walked Eagle to the highway.
We stopped at Aunt Lolita's.
She had made some tamales and she put
them in a paper bag for Eagle to take along.
When we got to the highway,
Eagle showed me how to throw rocks sideways,
skipping them on the pavement to make sparks.
I had never seen that before.
My father flagged the Greyhound with a flashlight
and Eagle went off to Camp Pendleton and Korea.

When the Interstate was coming through,
a place where people had lived a long time
ago was uncovered. I carried one of my nephews -
he was just a kid then - on my back there once.
The old place had four kivas,
and there were many small rooms.
It was built beside a hill to the west
which protected it from the wind.
There was a wash to the east of their home.
When it rains the water flows from the north
onto a wide flat space.
The people planted there, on the south.


My cousin who was working for a uranium
mill and mine supply company at the time
won some prizes over the telephone.
The voice on the phone from the radio station
asked, "Who is the father of this country?"
He said, "Without thinking about it,
I answered, `George Washington.'"

I don't think my Grandfather ever used
a telephone in his life although
he did see Eisenhower in Gallup once.
Ike was campaigning for president by train
and that was in the early 1950's.

When I was a boy, I didn't know
whether or not you could talk Acoma
into the telephone and even after I found
that you could I wasn't convinced
the translation was coming out correctly
on the other end of the line.
I have to ask the telephone operators
to help. Direct dialing and long distance
information confuse me, and I think
telephone operators are exasperated with me even now.


As far as I know, no one at Aacqu
subscribes to cable TV although CATV
from Grants has approached the people
with the idea, saying such things as,
"You can get thirty more channels than you do
presently. You can even get Los Angeles."
What kind of deal is that anyway!
Regular TV is crummy enough. My mother
used to watch "As the World Turns,"
and the kids are getting weird
from being witness to the Brady Bunch.

I don't know much about CATV
and I would like to think
that it's better that way,
but then I get this unwanted feeling
I better learn something about it.


The elder people at home do not understand.
It is hard to explain to them.
The questions from their mouths
and on their faces are unanswerable.
You tell them, "The State want right of way.
It will get right of way."

They ask, "What is right of way?"
You say, "The State wants to go through
your land. The State wants your land."
They ask, "The Americans want my land?"
You say, "Yes, my beloved Grandfather."
They say, "I already gave them some land."
You say, "Yes, Grandmother, that's true."
Now, they want more, to widen their highway."
They ask again and again, "This right of way
that the Americans want, does that mean
they want all our land?"

There is silence.
There is silence.
There is silence because you can't explain,
and you don't want to, and you know
when you use words like industry
and development and corporations
it wouldn't do any good.

There is silence.
There is silence.
You don't like to think
the fall into a bottonless despair
is too near and too easy and meaningless.
You don't want that silence to grow
deeper and deeper into you
because that growth inward stunts you,
and that is no way to continue,
and you want to continue.

And so you tell stories.
You tell stories about your People's birth
and their growing.
You tell stories about your children's birth
and their growing.
You tell the stories of their struggles.
You tell that kind of history,
and you pray and be humble.
With strength, it will continue that way.
That is the only way.
That is the only way.

From Woven Stone by Simon Ortiz, Vol. 21, in Sun Tracks an American Indian Literary Series, University of Arizona Press.
© 1992 Simon Ortiz Buy Now

Books by Simon Ortiz

Woven Stone, Simon Ortiz, Univ. Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
Men on the Moon : Collected Short Stories, Simon Ortiz, Univ. Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
After and Before the Lightning , Simon Ortiz, Univ. Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
Speaking for the Generations : Native Writers on Writing, Simon Ortiz (Editor), Univ. Arizona Press.
From Sand Creek : Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America, Simon Ortiz, Univ. Arizona Press.
The People Shall Continue, Simon Ortiz, Children's Book Press. (Library Binding)

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