I am excited to present a special issue on the topic of  Land Acknowledgments. As a citizen of the Navajo Nation, a federally-recognized tribe from the American Southwest, I know land as a vast territory ranging from sandstone canyons and hard rock pinnacles spread across high desert plateaus to mountain ranges over 10,000 feet. I know land as a regenerative basin that holds our essence—the sunrise and sunset of our time on this planet. I know land as volcanic, as medicine, as scarred, forgiving, structural, a foundation. Land pours as language or as wind-blown, tumbling into new territories, spaces I allow my body to thrive in, embodiments I choose to discard. All that and more is found within this issue. Bathe in the mineral-rich tide of voices. Emotional tugs engage, engross. The parts search out the whole to reunite, reconcile or expose, extract. Cairns mark territory, perhaps formally unrecognized, or perceived as unworthy or too foreign to charter. The body exposed/interposed, drawing attention to an internal landscape, scavenging remnants. I invite you to celebrate the numerous ways we—five-fingered beings—recognize, define, and take back land.

One of the biggest take backs is the re-territorializing of language. In this issue, quite a number of Indigenous writers are expanding poetics, resuscitating tribal languages, refashioning the English language with tribal meter, rhythm, and sound. I hope more than a few readers will understand the significance of this feat. Little more than fifty years ago, many of these writers would have been overlooked, misunderstood, or questioned about the legitimacy of their poetics. This volume acknowledges the history of racism and privilege in how access to publishing has been extended and the selection process of those eventually published. This volume acknowledges that the represented writers merely hint at the momentum of literary sovereignty occurring in Indian country, in addition to Indigenous writers throughout the globe.

Enjoy Allison Akootchook Warden’s call to order of cultural memory, collectively affirming “we are whole and good and we remember all of it.” Position yourself accordingly as you receive Manny Loley’s “Hasísná.” Elise Paschen’s contribution offers significant leaps into literary sovereignty. Most Native American languages are recorded and written using the English language orthography. While the Cherokee Nation is most known for its own syllabary, the Osage Nation have launched their own orthography for their language, which Elise was able to include—presenting readers with three different readings. From experience, I know that relying on the English-language alphabet to conscribe correctness to the usage of the Navajo language has been grueling and at times divisive, placing Indigenous thought and creativity at the mercy of colonial linguistic restraints. In this sense, Indigenous languages remain captive to racialized and oppressive landscapes.

Although there are a number of writers emerging from Indian Territory, a.k.a Oklahoma, of the bunch, I am firm to suggest that you listen to the audio version of Michael Thompson’s poem “Love Shack, Anadarko” on the website. His use of humor is one method to combat colonization.

This issue closes with an exclusive interview with master poet Arthur Sze, who for the first time elaborates on his role as professor and director of the creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Numerous writers include Arthur Sze in their poetry ancestry.

As I conclude this note, I hear the lullaby crashing of the Pacific Ocean. I hear the rhythmic sirens of law enforcement, the hum and roar of freeway traffic and the Metro Green Line. I sorrow for the land covered over with kelly-green AstroTurf and sheets of tar-layered roads. I leave my tears at the oceanic altar. I acknowledge my LA roots as an urban Indian, my relocation, my fractionated Indigenous ancestry morphing my body into a political weapon, a statistic on the deficit side of this land called the United States. I acknowledge myself as Diné asdzáán, Tł’ógi nishłí, Tódích’íi’nii bashishchiin, Kinłichíi’nii dashicheii, Táchii’nii dashinalí. I acknowledge myself as a Navajo woman, and when I acknowledge my four clans, I give recognition to my parents and their parents. Their stories, their prayers, and songs establish who I am as a five-fingered being.

Editor's Note:

The reference to five-fingered beings comes from the Navajo creation story. The significance of our stories lies in their unifying qualities. Thus, when I mention five-fingered beings, it is a universal, collective term for humankind. It is also a reminder of how we are connected to others, and how we need each other, which infers the word k’é, identifying who and how we are related.

Originally Published: July 1st, 2022

A Diné (Navajo) multimedia artist and writer, Esther Belin grew up in Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts and the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poetry, From the Belly of My Beauty (1999), won the American Book Award from...

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