There Is No Way to Move the Mountain

I wrote this a week after Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna, and their family friends were killed in a helicopter accident on January 26, 2020. It was not until today, the penultimate Sunday of Lent, that I felt compelled to share.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant at a Lakers Game
(via NBC News)

I don’t know why, but I looked up Kobe Bryant’s funeral today only to find out it still hasn’t happened. This unnerved me, and I don’t fully understand why. Still? Grief has stages, but no timetable. All nine bodies recovered, returned, not yet laid to rest. I think in statements about this horrific accident, I suppose, to try to square it with myself.

Why were they flying in that fog?

It was a frightful and gruesome way to go. Blunt force trauma into the side of a hill on a mountain in Calabasas, California; three weeks of nonstop press; a federal investigation; jerseys, candles, flowers, eyes red from weeping, purple, yellow. Where does this leave Los Angeles? I need to stop reading all the press. I need to look away from the wreckage strewn along the hillside because, more than a week later, it is still there on every article and in every news clip, the scene that none of us can unsee. And there is no way to make this better, no semblance of resolution. I’m angry it was Kobe, Gianna, and their family friends. Fog, blunt force, press. Every shot clock read eight, twenty-four.

Why did it have to be someone who told us he was sorry?

We wanted Kobe to be invincible because he elevated his focus and his work to a high art. Yet all that stares back at us from our screens is the scorched side of the mountain, the delicate trails of white smoke rising to a God I am pleading with for answers. Where does this leave the rest of us? There is no way to make this better. I refuse to believe Kobe was barreling towards that hillside his whole life because it’s just so egregiously unfair.

Like the wreckage of burnt, mangled edges of helicopter scattered along that mountain, none of this fits together anymore. No similes stick, and all my ruminating on the Black excellence Kobe reflected back to us are woefully incomplete. He did what you are supposed to do─he won─and he exploded into the side of a mountain. I was so rattled and angry at God the first few days that I prayed the hours faithfully, earnestly, searchingly: none, sext, vespers, compline. Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri. 

I can’t stop thinking about the sound of the impact, the explosion the churchgoers heard and felt from the street below. 

It shook the mountain. 

Why did You look away?

What does it mean to be recovered, returned, and not yet laid to rest? What does it mean to not know where to land? My mom once told me that funerals are very important for Black people because we need to look death in the face and accept it. I can’t keep looking at the crash site.  I write about it to integrate the shock, the outrage, the strangely heavy sorrow, to look unflinchingly at the mountain. I write about it to come back. There is no way to make this better. There is no resolution this side of heaven—only our grief. 

I know this to be true. And—not “but”—I don’t know why the Bryants, the Altobellis, and the Mausers had to die that day. And—not “but”—I know enough to know an explanation for an unnecessary helicopter accident is not a place to land. A funeral is not a resolution. It was a horrific accident. And when we acknowledge the mountain, the grief begins to move.

Yalitza Aparicio Appreciation Post

Also, can we talk about white supremacy in Indian Country?

So, first thing’s first: Indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio has been snatching edges since her debut in “Roma.” Most recently, she was giving the rest of us something to aspire towards on the cover of Vogue México. And let’s be honest—we are not worthy.

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Underneath her name, it says “a star is born” in both Spanish and Mixtec. I Stan. (Vogue México)

I haven’t seen “Roma” yet, but obviously, Yalitza is life goals. And her ascent onto the world stage has been hailed as a win for Indigenous womxn. It has been refreshing to see an Indigenous womyn who looks like me (e.g., brown AF) being appreciated for her talent and her beauty. And while Native folks all over Turtle Island are souped, I do think Yalitza’s meteoric rise presents the perfect opportunity to acknowledge white supremacy in Indian Country.

This is a conversation I do not like to have with other Natives, because, to be totally transparent, I don’t want people to misunderstand my point or think I’m bitter. We balk to acknowledge privilege of lighter-skinned and white passing Natives, never mind that said privilege is just an iteration of white supremacy. 

But it matters. How often do we talk about Indigenizing work, but in the same breath, marginalize brown (and I’m talking brown) Indigenous folks? Much to the chagrin of light-skinned Indigenous people, I contend that one cannot actually Indigenize anything without first naming, confronting and reconciling the ways in which we perpetuate white supremacy within our community. We are deeply invested in colonial constructs around Indian blood, but we are quick to center and uplift the lighter among us without critiquing why: most the Native folks who are really out here with big platforms and any amount of social capital (Instagram Indians, as my Maya Kaqchikel friend and I call them) are light, bright, and damn near white.

And that is a large part of why I think Yalitza, and her visibility, is so important. I am over the moon for her. And her dizzying rise to stardom presents many questions that get to the heart of Indigenizing work. After this moment, will we continue to uplift brown- and darker-skinned Indigenous people, particularly womxn, gender nonconforming/gradient, and Two Spirit folks, in our communities? How can we be critical of which Indigenous voices we center? How do we appreciate Yalitza without fetishizing her?

And, most importantly: how do you say “you better slay these ungrateful hoes” in Mixtec?

Open Letter to the White Woman Who Tried to Take My Photo Even Though I Asked Her Not To

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I know we’re poppin, but like, yall (non-Native people) need to chill.

Dear Random Settler,

You’re lucky I was dancing jingle this weekend.

Why? Because the jingle dress is a medicine dress. Not that you know this; not that you were listening when the MC explained our dance; not that it occurred to you that our regalia has any sort of meaning.

I say you’re lucky because, had I not been wearing this medicine dress, I would have definitely cussed you out.

You’re not the first white person to run up on me like you did yesterday afternoon, brandishing a phone camera, ready to do a cultural drive-by. You are, however, the first  to try to take my picture after I asked you not to.

Your actions were beyond disrespectful, but they were not surprising. Unfortunately, my people know your colonial gaze all too well. In the paternalistic traditions of Roger Williams and John Eliot, you extended settler violence by objectifying me.

I know exactly what kind of white liberal New Englander you are, showing up at the powwow as if that absolves you of your investment in colonialism. And I’m sure that you “mean well.” Don’t you all? I’m sure you knitted a pink pussy hat when your president got elected; voted for Elizabeth Warren; cheered at Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace. But I’m willing to bet that not once at the powwow did you think about consent. And when you accosted me yesterday, you decided your cultural voyeurism was more important than respecting my culture. And me.

Hence I’m tired of white folks who “mean well.” Your people’s “good intentions” are, more often than not, burdensome. And it seems like whenever you come into our spaces, all you want to do is take. Appropriate. Steal.

Here’s the thing, sis. Not only is your patronizing fascination with Indigenous cultures burdensome, it is an extension of settler colonialism. At the core of your forefathers’ lively experiment called genocide was the belief that my people are sub-human. You felt entitled to take a photo of me, without my consent, because at some fundamental level you believe I am sub-human.

Whether or not you actually walked away with a photo is besides the point. I hope at the very least, your interaction with me jarred you out of stereotyping my people as docile, silent, and obedient.

Indigenous people are not attractions. Powwow is not a freak show. We do not exist solely to satisfy your colonial fetishes. That’s not how any of this works, and none of us owe you an explanation for the fact that we’re still here.

Signed,

A Jingle Dress Dancer  Who Refuses to Engage in Your White Nonsense

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Yes, we look presh. No, you can’t take our picture, sit with us, or make us buy into your dehumanizing settler lies about who we are as Indigenous people.

Wequashim Wóhsumóe

Full moon musings:

The moon is super important in many Indigenous cultures on Turtle Island, and particularly so for those of us who are coastal, given that the moon affects ocean tides. Part of my own (re-)Indigenizing and (re)matriation practice includes reclaiming ancestral knowledge and (re)rooting myself in the natural world—because everything is connected, and because the fundamental objective of colonialism is to break our connections.

I’ve been in a season of unlearning harmful, self-destructive ways of being and understanding myself. Still feeling the illuminating, healing energy of last night’s wequashim wóhsumóe, full moon, as I move into a new season of building a new foundation of the old ways: Sankofa in practice. Grateful and continually growing.

#FirstNationsSensation: Jeremy Dutcher

I just wanted to take a minute to Stan for one of my new faves: Jeremy Dutcher. This Toronto-based classically trained vocalist and composer blends Wolastoq and Western classical music, and it’s nothing short of stunning. He’s currently workong on his debut album “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa” (Our Maliseet Songs). In the meantime, I’m playing “Honour Song” and “Mehcinut” (the latter of which dropped yesterday) on repeat. Get it, Jeremy!

Ceremony

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quahog, Mashantucket | dried rhododendrons, Arcadia | gifted bundle of white sage | rain water, Westerly | photograph, paternal grandmother | Ankara cloth, Ghana | cowry shells | earring, Meknès | hand of Fatima, Meknès | maternal grandmother’s ring | small quahog, Potumtuk | dried calendula, Louisiana | turkey feather wrapped in pan-African colors, Mashantucket | small cactus, not pictured | candles | white T-shirt sleeve

#ReclamationInProvidencePlantations

I Found My Way Back: 10 Albums I Loved in 2017

I turned 26 last week, and to commemorate the fact that I’ve made it through my early 20s, I compiled a list of records released in 2017 (and 2018 – shoutout to Supaman!) that I love. These off-the-beaten-track records have had me, for want of a better term, shook. At the end of this post, I compiled 26 of my favorite tracks onto a playlist. Wunnegan – enjoy!

1) Two Roads

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(via Spotify)

WHO: DAP the Contract

WHAT: A unique, effortless blend of hip-hop and R&B, DAP’s first release in 2017 is set apart by thoughtful collaborations (“Chains,” “Blue”) and timely political commentary interwoven between jazzy riffs (“Two Roads”).

WHY: In seven tracks, DAP’s nimble lyricism (“Another Day, Another Night”) and musicality (“Forever Yours”) shine through.

2) Mercury & Lightning

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(via Spotify)

WHO: John Mark McMillan

WHAT: Ambitious genre-blending that will make you re-think your (mis)conceptions about Christian music. This record is confessional and ultimately cathartic.

WHY: What McMillan accomplishes here is deeply spiritual  (“Nothing Stands Between Us”) and, at the same time, unapologetically human (“Unhaunted,” “Persephone”). McMillan asks a lot of universal questions and points beautifully to God as the ultimate answer.

 

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(via Facebook)

3) Illuminatives

WHO: Supaman

WHAT: The first full-length album of Appsáalooke artist Supaman is Indigenous hip-hop at its finest. He incorporates traditional music and a few very well-chosen features for a stunning debut.

WHY: Unapologetically and unequivocally Native (“Somewhere” with Northern Cree, “Why”), but it’s also true hip-hop (“Miracle” with Maimouna Youssef, “Prayer Loop Song” ). Not an easy balance to strike, and for that, Illuminatives is not to be missed.

4) IIII+IIII

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(via Spotify)

WHO: ÌFÉ

WHAT: Pronounced “Ejiogbe,” IIII+IIII is the first full-length album from the Afro-Caribbean group named after an ancient Yoruba city in Nigeria.

WHY: This record both reclaims and re-invents. I love it not only for the clear Black American influences (“UMBO (Come Down)”) but also for the rich histories and various West African traditions it alludes to (“3 MUJERES (Iború Iboya Ibosheshé)” and “YARI GEMINI (Beyi La)”).

 5) 3:33am

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(via Spotify)

WHO: Amber Mark

WHAT: This debut, self-produced EP chronicles Mark’s grief following the death of her mother. It is, as the singer says, really for anyone processing loss, and as such, it feels both persynal and universal.

WHY: Mark’s sonorous voice over infectious pop melodies (“Way Back”) and moving ballads (“Monsoon”) is everything you didn’t know you need.

 

6) River House

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(via Spotify)

WHO: Taylor Leonhardt

WHAT: The debut full-length album from Raleigh-based singer/songwriter Taylor Leonhardt. Her clever lyrics (“Everything,” “Diamonds”) and honest, searching choruses (“Would You Be Well,” “Deja Vu”) are not to be missed.

WHY: Some of the most refreshing Christian music I’ve ever heard. That River House is Leonhardt’s first full-length project is exciting: without a doubt, she’s an artist to watch.

7) All is Not Lost

a71f6bf43f5ad8c696df447bb416714cfee5cf93(via Spotify)

WHO: The Brilliance

WHAT: One the most important records to me, easily in my top five like, ever. The self-described liturgical duo draws on a variety of influences, from gospel (“Turning Over Tables”) to pop (“Hear Our Prayer”), all while creating a distinct style (“Lift Your Voice” and “Gravity of Love”).

WHY: With lush instrumentation and poetic lyrics, this record is a modern day book of Psalms, a heartfelt and exquisite analysis of the human condition. In short, All is Not Lost is a masterpiece.

8) The Bridge

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(via Spotify)

WHO: Frank Waln

WHAT: Featuring a few well-chosen samples and spoken word pieces by Tanaya Winder, The Bridge weaves together both personal and historical pain. Waln raps with urgency rooted in a palpable rage  (“7” with Tanaya Winder, “What Makes the Red Man Red”), but his flow is undeniable (“Basements”). Ultimately, the hope and love for our people shine through (“Good Way” and “My Stone”).

WHY:  Rich, layered with history, pain, and hope, The Bridge resonated with me even in my experience as an urban Native womyn from the northeast – and I rarely see myself reflected in Plains artists’ work. I love this record because it really feels like it’s for us, not for white consumption. #JustCookinUpThatNativeShit.

9) In Our Time

IMG_2323WHO: Sanctuary Music

WHAT: Sanctuary Music’s debut EP draws from Habakkuk 3:2 and Exodus 33 in the title track (“In Our Time”). It’s an honest appeal for God to show up, as the title song suggests, in our time and in this place (e.g., Providence).

WHY: Well-written, thoughtfully composed worship music from a church intentionally showing up for its city. In only three tracks (one of which is the Spanish version of the title track), Sanctuary Music shows they are not here to play games (“For Your Love / Micah 6:8” was one of my top five most played songs in 2017). Look out, Bethel and Hillsong – Providence is on the come-up.

10) Everything Now

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(via Spotify)

WHO: Arcade Fire

WHAT: A departure from the Canadian band’s earlier projects, Everything Now is a dizzying carousel of influences and sounds that captures the frenzy of living in the age of mass media.

WHY: Certainly less cohesive than Funeral and Neon BibleEverything Now delivers dark, self-reflexive, lyrics (“Everything Now,” “Electric Blue”) over rock anthem choruses (“Creature Comfort”) and with a heightened sense of mania. The band wasn’t lying when they named this record: it is everything, all at once.

As promised, here’s the playlist. What did I miss in 2017? Put me on!