LA WALKS OF RESILIENCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
After nearly 3 years of not holding walks due to the pandemic, we decided to begin our initiative Walks of Resilience and Accountability in Los Angeles, CA in partnership with the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission and members of the Tongva community. We walked with the acknowledgement that for both the Paiute and Tongva tribes their water story is about Resilience – a commitment to survive that is passed down through the generations. We also walked with the acknowledgement that the current colonial system has the opportunity and we feel the responsibility to be accountable for the many injustices that have been committed on waters, peoples and lands.
We decided to walk the same route along the LA river each day for 3 days – a concrete path winding between the river and the highway. At this section of the river while encased in concrete it still had a soft bottom which allowed for life to come through. It highlighted the contradiction of a river that isn’t really a river – or is it? This theme came up for the youth from East Yard Academy and Payahuunadü/Owens Valley again and again on the first day.
Along with walking, we also sat in circle and shared our impressions, thoughts and feelings about it all. Jessa Calderon, Tongva community member, guided us in a way of envisioning what the river had been and dreaming what it could be … a LA river without concrete, a relationship with water not based on extraction … a dream where each of our stories has a place.
There were for sure a few challenges – the heat, the noise, some of the logistics and some people not showing. In part, the walks are a space for elected officials to come listen and witness the stories of those who live in Los Angeles, those whose ancestral home it has been before settlers arrived, and those whose homelands are being drained to support LA. Two reps, one from the LA Mayors office and one of the commissioners for LADWP had committed to come – the young people had prepared presentations – and neither of them were able to come at the last minute. We hope in the future that these opportunities will be more valued by more of those who work in public office and young people’s voices increasingly heard and respected.
We each walked with the question of how LA, and us all, can become sustainable in our water use. For us – to be truly sustainable in our water usage, it is essential to recognize the need for resilience. We must also acknowledge the need for accountability and begin to assume the responsibility it takes to truly restore our relations with water. We give thanks for both the Tongva community members and Paiute members for showing us the way, for Gigi Coyle and Orland Bishop as guides and Teena Pugliese for the photos.
The Walking Water Collective
AnMarie Mendoza – Tongva Community member
The Walks of Accountability along the Paayme Paxaayt (LA River) took place during a very significant time for our river and our people. It was powerful to connect with our Numuu relatives,especially the young people who will lead the fight for water protection in the future.
Through the walk I kept thinking about the current colonial moment in which we live, a moment where Indigenous peoples are still struggling to have our voices heard when it comes to shaping our water futures in LA. While that is upsetting to constantly be confronted with erasure, this walk has revitalized my commitment to continue to build the relationships that will create the paradigm shift where Indigenous people are in leadership. Special thank you to Cindy, Paola, and all the organizers and youth from East Yard who offered up their knowledge and time this weekend. Paar’e Eyooxariin Xaa- Water is our life.
Kyndall and Ramona Noah – Owens Valley Indian Water Commission
My family and I participated in the Walk of Resilience and Accountability in collaboration with the Tongva tribe and Walking Water along the Los Angeles River. We divided the miles in half with my children and wife. The first day was very intense and was quite a revelation to the issues the Tongva people have faced and the false narrative that Los Angeles continues to perpetuate. I participated with engaging conversations with fellow activist which I found very hopeful in our advocacy that so many others were part of the discussion on water, and how sacred the water is to Indigenous people, our animal relations, and truths on the original inhabitants of Los Angeles (Tongva).
My wife had the opportunity to speak about her experiences, the sacredness, and hope for water. She stated she grew up in Los Angeles and did not conceptualize the power of water, where it came from, it’s importance, and the history involved until she moved back to her ancestral lands. She has witnessed the environmental degradation from over pumping by LADWP and learned more as I have continued my work for the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission and understands the importance of our voice. We appreciated so many who are actively participating in advocacy, but they need to understand it is their responsibility with the information they received to utilize it in an effective way for a better future for us all.
It is important to understand our story, our perspectives, and our vision and hopes for a future for the next generations. My children 6 and 4 have always been told truths about injustices Indigenous people have suffered and the resiliency passed down to them. Their prayers since have involved the need to help our planet because the water was not being treated very nicely and people need to respect down there (LA) because of the trash and green stuff in the water where the fish live and stop polluting it. Truth from the mouth of children.
Gigi Coyle – Walking Water Guardian
Welcome song of the Tongva,
Greetings between the tribes,
Many people from wild, rough, uptown, midtown and downtown places,
Guidance from Jessa and Annie,
Being a part of, at home in the water
Each day meeting with others from different organizations and locations, schools, island nations,
Walking and waking with young ones, seeing the beauty and the all the rest,
Learning about the master plan for the river thru Annie’s heart and eyes,
Grieving a continued story of disrespect,
finding the shade,
East Yard strong presence throughout 2 days of walking,
Orland’s travel with us and to the moon, Sawubona,
Kyndall and Ramona leading us with their stories, inspired by their children
Witnessing the flowers, the yuk, the flow, the concrete, the tents, the cacophony of sounds of festival, highway, river, bikes, humans seen and unseen,
Learning about films, books, land back,
Knowing, feeling the grief as the injustice continues,
Imagining past, present and futures with water flowing freely,
Greeting of the hawk, herons and cormorant, standing in formation, letting the wind flow thru their wings,
Remembering the power of language, learning the plants, Tongva and Paiute names for the river and water,
Calling the names of our elders, teachers, leaders, those who have come before,
Michael offering beaded beauty, gifting each other story, food, books, water, sisterhood, father’s day, non-binary all together
New & old ways of being together, commitment to new forms and more truthful education,
Concrete with the water bubbling beyond and thru, the sound of the river, the sound of the highway
Paul coming all the way to walk with us and more importantly, to walk with the river for the first time,
Teena running, flying, covering and discovering us thru photos,
Old and new allies, friends, collaborators, coordinators and cross pollinators….
Returning again and again in a long walk.
Members of East Yard Academy, Los Angeles
Tiff “Walking next to the river I noticed all the fruit trees that grew beside her. How the river continues to nurture the earth when given the chance. She is constantly giving life.”
Bear “The river wants to be free, the concrete should be removed, the natural parts of the river are so beautiful, the concrete makes the river looks trapped.”
Laz “There was a shopping cart in the river! The river needs our help! Nature is always offering you things and but what do you give nature? We need to give nature gifts not trash!”
Having the opportunity to be in community with elders, water protectors and Indigenous peoples of the lands we steal our resources from, caused me to reflect on my role in respecting and protecting water. As individuals and people who exist within settler colonial and capitalist institutions, it’s our responsibility to validate and center Indigenous rights and knowledge, protect and restore native ecological systems and ensure water’s health when collecting, overseeing, administering, using, recycling and building water infrastructure. I’m deeply grateful to the Indigenous people who took the time to share their knowledge and experiences; opportunities like this allow us to learn about and acknowledge the privileges and harms we benefit from as people living within cities built off of stolen land, resources and people.
Water Walks are very important to community members so we become more aware of the importance of nature & water especially from the other side of the freeway. Many times I have driven on fwys along the LA River & was not aware of what I had been missing thanks to the Walks of Resilience & Accountability hosted by Walking Water & our Tongva community. Water is our Life and I’m thankful for the learnings from those that continue to bring awareness.
Orland Bishop – Walking Water Guardian
The River walk was essential to the vitality of the communities of memory, the present tribal peoples and the future of the river, the city and the land where water flows.
Paul Huette – Big Pine Paiute Tribe
It’s always a wonderful day walking with water, on Father’s Day in 2022, I had the great experience walking with a great group of people along the Los Angeles River. My heart was filled with overwhelming joy once I saw the water flowing, the water still had so much life, creating a new habitat for the wing ones (birds), creepy crawlers (insects), and four legged (animals) with love for all others located in the heart of a concrete jungle. The water that creates life in a cement wash basin shows me the power and respect that water gives to restore and maintain life. Simple changes to remove man-made structures show the results natural earth, native plants, and flowing water create when combined. Changes in natural structures of plants reminds me of my homeland where a lack of water keeps plants from growing, birds from coming, and animals from resting. Some of the potable water used to create environment in LA could be left in the Owens Valley, specifically a near and dear place in my heart, Fish Springs near Big Pine Ca, where over pumping has dried up the once largest spring in the entire valley. The source of the problem is over pumping from the fish springs hatchery, which can be changed for the better.
Andy Lipkis – Accelerate Resilience Los Angeles
Although I’ve walked along, and kayaked in the LA River many times, this event was especially and deeply meaningful to me. Meeting, listening to, talking and walking with young Tongva and Paiute people helped me open my heart and eyes, enabling me to see and feel more deeply the river and watershed and their vital, essential relationship to the health of all our families and communities.
It was also especially lovely to connect with a living portion of the river, where because of its unpaved bottom, water seeps up from the aquifer and adds water to the minimal flow, thus sustaining large trees, soil, fish, birds and wildlife–and the river’s babbling water voice–which I could sometimes hear despite the ever present noise of the adjacent freeway. I am looking forward to continuing these conversations.
Teena Pugliese – Photographer
After three days of walking along the LA river, it was potent to return to Payahuunadü and learn more about the effects the Fish Spring Hatchery & LADWP has had upon the land. It made my heart heavy to hear that not only have they drained The Owens Lake dry but also the largest fresh water spring in this valley, Fish Spring. As I walked over the dry earth and heard talk of mitigation and the likelihood of restoring the spring, I thought back to Jessa Calderon and the imagination journey she guided us through during our time together. She asked us to see the LA river as it was before, a sacred being that once ran free through Tongva Territory teeming with life. I wondered, what was the largest spring in the valley like? I imagined walking upon saturated soil, smelling the sweetness of the earth, seeing the beauty of the plant beings reaching high toward the Sierras and hearing the songs of the water. Seeing the many beings that thrived around this watering hole. Sadness struck me as I opened my eyes to the desert and lava field that stretched before us. It was still strikingly beautiful but surviving and no longer thriving. It was a strong final note in the song I carried back with me from our time together with Walking Water in Los Angeles. I walked home with a prayer, that the department of water and power restores their relationship with water and channels the power they have toward bringing water back to the land— the land where water always flows.
Photo by Teena Pugliese: 1. Aerial view of LA river and the walkers; 2. Our hosts and guides, Jessa Calderon and AnMarie Mendoza, Tongva community members; 3. Life along the Paayme Paxaayt (LA River); 4. The walkers along the river path; 5. Aerial view of the river, the walkers and the highway; 6. In circle, listening to story; 7. East Yard Academy members and Kyndall Noah finding shade; 8. AnMarie Mendoza guiding us; 9. Asking Andy Lipkis questions; 10. One of the youngest walkers from Payahuundü sharing story