Hidden History Now Seen by Daniella James of San Carlos Apache College
Hidden History Now Seen by Daniella James of San Carlos Apache College

All thoughts of my mother are similarly complicated by one thing. She died when I was fifteen. By the time I was twenty-four, I felt I’d already lived three lifetimes, in just this one life (which I’d always hoped would be my last).

We were extremely close. Her hands, like her, were elegant, smooth, and golden warm, able to create from nothing—and powerful, able to destroy, though never tempted in vain.

Her hands guided me into belief in myself, in the universe, and one day gently pushed me into the sea, alone on a boat. Woeful.

Her hands guided me into the living truth—being about who you are by living it and honoring the medicine you carry by using it in a good way.

She worked countless hours building sacred regalia for all of the family, stitching prayers into pattern, into wool with abalone, so that we were able to represent our family and clan and dance in a strong way and with love and ferocity. our regalia reminds us who we are, how we are to be, and who we are becoming.

As our mother, she handled and shaped that which we could only behold, and the movements echo through us every day in our actions and prayers.

We are kneading life in order to live well, and her hands taught us through example.

Her death marked the second life I would begin thereafter, which itself would culminate with the birth and loss of my mother’s third granddaughter. I know that she was there with us throughout, especially close to the freshest among us, the family’s newborn, taadidiin. This is why it is strange to recall my mother— I have never felt that she left me at all. Still, she holds us together, and sometimes when astray, clasps us in her palms.

Her presence can be quite tangible. In the beginning, when she had very recently passed, my sister and I stayed in the house where it happened. one early evening, just past the “golden hour,” the wooden living room wall before me radiated with the brilliance of a rich forest, breathing in Sol’s settling over the horizon. It truly was a brown and golden light. I floated in it, dazed. But the light, which came from my back porch, was suddenly broken by the silhouette of a person strolling by. Immediately alarmed, I ran to the scene to find no intruder. Befuddled, I sat back down on the couch only to clearly see this person walk back across the porch in the opposite direction. This became a cycle: a sighting, rush to look, no one there, sit back down. It only increased in rapidity and always remained in complete silence—travelling from one side of the porch to the other, faster and faster until it was implausible, impossible, until it was just a flash of a shadow vibrating back and forth and BLAM! The sudden (and very loud) report was a slam on the glass door and in this glorious light I stared at the perfect silhouette of my mother, holding up one hand, fingers outstretched. And in an instant, she was gone from sight.

It’s funny, I guess as far as the mortal coil or physical form goes, that one of the last things I saw of my mom was her hand.

Now, in what feels like my third life, I don’t think about my mom’s literal hands too often (or ever).

But we create with our hands, we enact and actualize through and with them. She, with her own hands, re-shaped her life and herself in order to live well, as her heart, spirit, and mind advised her. It is in this way, witnessing, that I learned to give my utmost and to believe. It is on me to enact and actualize my hopes, beliefs, and promises, to shape my own life, with my own hands.

teklu is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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