Correction*, Essay

every pattern needs a passage

Sarah Biscarra Dilley

May 30, 2024

black mussels

 

                                                      black ants

 

                                                                                                             quail

 

      north                                                                                                

 

swordfish

 

           horses                                                       

           

                              red ants                                                                        

                                                                              

                                                                   dogs

 

carrizo

rabbits

white earth

 

 

 

 

1

     

 

 

      sicpats / tšiłkukunɨtš / ko’owšup

A village that evokes the liminal moment of electric blue of when sunlight dips below the horizon or rises over the eastern summit of the Temblor Range in Central California—I was called to this place in the years before starting my graduate studies, though I had only the slightest glimmer of what I was to learn here. After spending weeks reading and looking at maps, trying to make sense of the landscape that looked halfway between the moon and bleached prairie, I began making the five-hour trek from xučyun to tšiłkukunɨtš regularly in 2015.

 

      the eagerness

      of someone
      too foolish

                       to be intimidated

                              by such power.

      camping for days alone in the hills

      I feel fear not in immensity

      or the vastness of silence

      but the seas of oil wells

      that left me hiding my tent

      and speaking aloud

      to nonexistent travel companions

      in the presence of extraction working

      each time

      a terrifying passage

      through split or spilt landscapes

      toward an unrivaled peace.

Understanding now, this village is a place of observation or gathering of peoples at important moments or being part of the worlds through solitude, the collapsing of time here is a complementary echo of multiplicity. It is a world-place, woven with the stories of peoples throughout valleys, across mountains, and along tributaries of language, capable of holding each in simultaneous existence, teaching us what colonialism tries to make us forget through territoriality. There are three names for this area, in three languages, each holding significance to another lesson of place and the possibility of learning to sing in continuous rounds, not speaking over one another’s knowing.

 

 

2

 

 

 

                                                            tsɨtqawi

 

A mountain made of slow-moving fire that emerges from the sea, yatknipu yakʔismašinatsʔitʸu. Held alongside power, kinships, and mounds of food for the spirits, it is named for the dogs who know a large dance house. Their social networks are entwined with ours and highlight the collectivity of prayer, health, nourishment, and abundance.

Tending a dance house of this size requires great wealth. Wealth marked through expansive and unselfish bounty.

      the steadiness of stone,

                                                dacite and

                                    quartz and volcanic

                                                                        glass

      is a storied place with narratives in simultaneity

      distanced from

      the

      warp

                        and

            weft

                        of good relations,

      it becomes a site

      of tension

      pulled taut.

 

      every

                        pattern

           needs

      a passage.

Mounds made into middens are not refuse but the material accumulation of our generosity and spiritual strength. These too were mined like the stones from the skirt of our mountains, but they could never steal her cap made of the skies. Saltwater taffy and surfing competitions are a passing moment in the depth of eternity.

life hides in plain sight

a mountain

made

of mirrors

calls her people home.

 

 

3

 

 

 

tsɨtxala

Anchoring endurance, we see the relationship between coastal and inland villages, carried by hardworking beings with subterranean networks. This place held our dances longer than many other villages, made possible by kinships across languages and territories.

 

a cueva

      becomes San Geronimo

      becomes protected coastline

                                                                              for journeying plovers

                                                who make nests

                        among stars.

 

Churning tides carry the heaviness of wealth, like the immense burdens of ants, and fly with the levity of egrets in the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                            tsɨtkawayu

 

 

Our village is a potent one, known by abalone sunsets, dense piñon, and the downy dampness of heavy mist. The name, a recent shift, speaks to the trafficking of herds by the Spanish, distant relations of smaller equine ancestors long sleeping. Taking caballo and making it ours, a place in the pines is kept in motion.

 

      a clearing scent of

                              p e p p e r w o o d

                                                                              follows

                                                                 the creek

                                                                              from spring

                                                to shore,

      alternating

                              serpentine

                  and gold

      in the pattern

      of hillsides

                  coastal pines with deep stories

                  are set to slumber without the

                  kiss of heat and light upon whom

                                    the dispersal of seeds

                                                                              has become reliant.

 

On September 10, 1769, we found the interlopers near the water, and we visited them as a group of sixty and a bear, gifting mush and fish to feed soldiers gaunt with bottomless hunger. Their assumptions shape centuries of misrepresentation, minimization, and theft but tukuski softly huffs an old song.

 

      xuš

                  xuš

                             xuš

                  xuš

tɨhɨ

tɨhɨ

tɨhɨ

tɨhɨ

xuš

                  xuš

                              xuš

                                          xuš

                                                      tɨhɨ

                                                      tɨhɨ

                                                      tɨhɨ

                                                      tɨhɨ

 

Our independence is marked here; in the tension with southern captains seeking to control, in the distinctness of our language, which bridges relations, in the confluence of oak and pine.

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                            tissimassu

      true north,

      a path of piñon,

      white rocks,

      and salt

An arm reaches into the sea and turns all directions simultaneously.

Our mountains emerge from the sea with open sweeps like a wide embrace, mistaken for unbounded access. Relatives worked across changing contexts to maintain relationship here, from gathering place to carceral space, submerged springs to disinterred worlds. Each occupier stole more, and differently, but their structures haven’t left.

 

      cueros carried priests

      who became Picos

      who sold parcels

      consumed by Hearsts

      collecting bodies

      and soil

      for profit

      and university systems

      and anthropology museums

      or mansions

      striped ones

      or cattle

      transformed into gifts

      to the state

            accumulation began with hunger;

                  first for land and souls,

                                          then for meat and gold,

                              then for burials

                                         and newsprint,

            and wine tastings

            and tourists

            and wind

                              łhuphupismuni

                 łhuphupismuni

łhuphupismuni

p

       o

u

r  e d  over mortars

crushing

carrying

chewing

 

we eat from

           cracking            stones

but they

swallow

all the fat

 

            tannic acid

grasslands      and

paths

            connecting

people

                        pipestone

           piñon

                        and

p r e s e n c e

      we return to knowing

 

                        abundance is

                        generosity

                                               relation is

                                               responsibility

                                    and

      its lesson:

 

                        existence

 

      a dance of landing in ourselves

      and where we touch

      the lives of others

 

      we will not pay their debts

      but feed everyone at our table

 

 

6

 

 

 

We know that the one who dances still circles here. We know the unexplainable is an affirmation of truth. We know that all of life’s existence sings a cure for death. We know this short, violent story will end because in the north, it is set—fixed in continuous motion.

 

 

 

 

 

7

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                 

tsɨtloqloqlo

 

The rich green of a creek-turned-seasonal-lagoon is a mirror and a map, along a site of exchange, powerful tides, and diplomatic shifts. This place bridges language and ecosystems, spatializing change in ways that are both tangible and at the edges of knowing.

 

      I bathe in

                        cold jade

      every chance that I get

      remembering our names

      in the softest of silt.

 

The word for mussels and conflict is close enough; a reminder of how feasting keeps the peace with laughter and a clattering of shells. Flush with iron and salt, we are tasked with remembering the responsibilities of confluence, the intention of relation, and the power in peacemaking. At this juncture, we turn our attention to softness or variability or movement or power. Like these waters, we find our ways back to one another.

      We are healed by pleasure and embodiment,

      a complete surrender to presence and change.

 

 

8


 

 

 

 

 

 

9

  

 

tsɨtqaya

 

Mirroring a companion in red, there is a pair for everything. Trading saltwater for currents thick with steelhead like rainbows, it is a place of harsh sun making syrupy movement or flooded valleys turning halted movement electric. When pushed from the coast, we were held among relatives over mountains and manzanita.

      small black ants

      appear scattered

      but know what is

      above

      and

      below,

      carrying

      sweetness and sustenance.

 

 

10


 

 

 

                                                                                                              tsɨtkaka

 

Rolling hills and once-abundant oaks, we see our places made static with vineyards and dry creek beds, no trespassing signs and historic monuments to the places that ground us into unmarked graves or to the river that never stopped flowing.

 

      repeated as Las Gallinas

                        in mission registers,

            baptismal margins,

      or the hurried last rites

      of the hesitantly converted,

      we place ourselves back in language

      tkaka

      tkaka

      tkaka

      reduplication is innate

      in the scurrying of coveys

      and occasional burst of flight

     

      the youngest ones

 

      follow in diligent lines,

      keeping time with

      the one who

      wears

      a

      topknot.

 

      Translation,

      like knowing, is not

      a unidirectional practice.

 

 

11

 
 

 

                                                                                                              elewexe

Along a river that flows from the south toward the north, we find another mirror for knowing. Named for swordfish, despite its distance from the sea, elewexe connects spring water, toʔo tkmapsɨ, and salt. Mary Yee (1867–1965), a political relative through continued kinship and fluent speaker of Šmuwič—a language rooted near Santa Barbara—shares the following observation:

The Indians used to say: “All, whatever there is in the ocean is just like everything that is here on this earth. […] We are the people of this land. […] The people of the ocean are the swordfish.” Once upon a time the ocean went way out far, and suddenly they could see the houses of the swordfish. […] The house [was] sparkling in the place where the sun was shining on it.2

A place that held our relatives despite many attempts at removal from our rivers and shores to the north and west. Though the old stories root this place’s power, the fleeting story of settlement tells a hostile one—of incarceration, of hopelessness, of violence turned against ourselves. Our grandmother Mary’s house on Riverside stands still, with the dusty side yard used as unofficial parking for the fairgrounds that sprung up across the way and all the stories of survival that make us continue.

 

      swordfish

      anchors us

                  to the sea,

                        to northward movement,

      to the truth of responsibility

            to our own healing

and a stubborn dedication

            to the inherent joy of being alive

 

                                          it is glittering

 

                                                like a cloak of abalone scales

                                                like an inlaid socket

                                                like the flash of spears

                                                that call abundance to the shore

                                                tsʔiqsaqkɨnitʸaninititʸutitʸu

                                                feeding everyone

 

 

 

 

 

12

 
 

 

                        tsɨtloqloqlo

                                                                        tsɨtqaya

                                                                                  tsɨtkaka

 

 

     tissimassu

 

                                                                                                                          

elewexe

 

 

          tsɨtkawayu

                                             tsɨtxala

                                                                           tsɨtqawi

 

sicpats

tšiłkukunɨtš

ko’owšup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images
1

sicpats / tšiłkukunɨtš / ko’owšup, digital photograph, March 2017.

2

łisamuʔ, digital photograph, December 2023.

3

tsɨtqawɨ from txɨtxala, 35mm film, December 2023.

4

tsɨtkawayu sunset, 35mm film, December 2023.

5

tissimassu, 35mm film, December 2023.

6

Sarah Biscarra Dilley, qšiqšimu, video collage (still), 5:51, 2018-2020.

7

tsɨtloqloqlo, instant photograph, 2020.

8

Sarah Biscarra Dilley, qšiqšimu, video collage (still), 5:51, 2018-2020.

9

tsɨtqaya, digital photograph, 2021.

10

Sarah Biscarra Dilley, tqiłhismuʔ (detail), mixed media on canvas, 2024.

11

elewexe (facing east), 35mm film, May 2022.

12

elewexe (facing west), 35mm film, May 2022.

1

Also spelled as Huichin or Huchuin in commonly used orthography, this village, in Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone homelands, includes regions in the San Francisco East Bay known as El Cerrito, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, and Alameda.

2

Davenport, Demorest, John R. Johnson, and Jan Timbrook. “The Chumash and the Swordfish.” Antiquity 67, no.255 (1993): 257–72. Web.

“A Chumash narrative recorded by the last [recorded] Barbareño Chumash speaker, Mary J. Yee (1897–1965), during her linguistic work with J.P. Harrington (1986) provides an insight into the importance of the swordfish in Chumash cosmology (slightly revised from translation by Beeler [MS: v. 2: 51–2])” (258).

Sarah Biscarra Dilley (yaktitʸutitʸu yaktiłhini) is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, educator, and Director of Indigenous Programs & Relationality at Forge Project.

She comes from good people at the villages of tsɨtxala, tsɨtkawayu, tissimassu, Etsmal, tsɨtqaya, tsɨtkaka, elewexe, Asarum, Casas Grandes, Zinapécuaro, Santa Catarina, Sicpats, tšɨłkʔošoyoʔ, Waimea, and tsɨtqawɨ. Their practice is grounded in collaboration across experiences, communities, and place.

This essay is part of the Spring 2024 edition of Post/doc, which explores modes of generational, matrilineal knowing that permeate our perceptions of “correct” ways of being in the world. It is co-published by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School for the center’s 2022–2024 Focus Theme Correction*, and by Forge Project as part of its journal, Forging.

See Also

Connectivity, Art History

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Lois Taylor Biggs

Apr 30, 2024
Art historian Lois Taylor Biggs (Cherokee Nation/White Earth Ojibwe) shares the ways Anishinaabe artmaking helps make sense of life’s paradoxes, and all of their destructive and creative potential.

Seed, Criticism

‘A Love Song to Ohlone Culture’

Mary Ladd (We Wai Kai First Nation)

Jun 23, 2023
Co-owners Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino use cooking to foster 'ottoy at Cafe Ohlone outside the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.