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Excerpt from Dreams

Yontocket (p. 57)

From chapter "Demons"

I live on Tolowa land. If you believe the myths of science, the Tolowa lived in this region for at least 12,500 years. If you believe the myths of the Tolowa, they lived here since the beginning of time.

I am at Yontocket, a few miles from my home. It is the center of the universe for the Tolowa people, the place where land first emerged from water. It has forever been the site of their annual world renewal ceremonies.

It is also the site of a massacre of the Tolowa people by American settlers. In 1853, a mob of settlers—good Christians, many of them, and direct ancestors of many of the richest and most powerful people who today live on Tolowa land, here in Crescent City, California—murdered over four hundred and fifty Tolowa. Afterwards they built a huge fire and threw in the Tolowa’s sacred ceremonial dresses, their regalia, their feathers.

These good Christians threw in not only ceremonial dresses, but the infants of the Tolowa. They grabbed other Tolowa infants by their feet and bashed out their brains against trees.

I have told this story in books and at talks. I want people to know of atrocities like this, and I want people to act decisively—to do whatever it takes—to stop them.

But now I am sitting here, at Yontocket, on a hill next to a grave. Behind me is a cemetery, brown fencing surrounding small markers. I am sitting on sand interspersed with sparse clumps of sharp grass. The grass pricks me through my pants. Ants walk from clump to clump. I look at the trees in the small valley below, and then at the forest on the ridge across the way. I listen to the ocean perhaps half a mile beyond that ridge.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here: I’m not wearing a watch. I watch the trees in the slight wind, watch the ants, the sand. I listen to birds calling to each other in the trees. There are far fewer birds here than I’ve ever heard before. This is true everywhere I go. I listen, and then listen more.

I ask the land what it wants and needs from me. The answer comes surprisingly quickly. The land here at Yontocket tells me that while it appreciates the attention I have brought to the massacre that happened here, it doesn’t want to be known as a massacre site. This would, it tells me, be not unlike identifying a woman who was raped on October 27, 1988 as a rape victim (or survivor) for the rest of her life. Her life consists of so much more than that. Yes, it affected her, but that’s not who she is. Likewise, that’s not who this land is. This land is not merely “a massacre site.” That was one night out of thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. And besides, there was a massacre of trees right over there, and a massacre of salmon up there, and a massacre of birds down there, and so on. The dominant culture consists of massacres. That’s what it does, and that’s what it will do until it is stopped.

I understand.

The land says something else. It says that it misses humans making love here. Others—birds, porcupines, grasses, insects—all make love here. But the land misses humans making love. Bring someone here, the land says, and be with her, and be with all of us, like humans used to.