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By Deanna Jenné

“To distill the essence of water in a few sentences is like water vapor escaping into the vast desert sky, heated and transformed by the great Sun Man, with his arrows of heat piercing the meaning that is trying to be conveyed, that which is too vast to comprehend. All the teachings I’ve learned about water are a prayer of gratitude to the life giving waters or else they disappear never to be heard by the ears of our people or by Water, herself. So that this cycle of transformation, from ice to water to vapor, to clouds and rain and back again continues through eternity, at least as long as humans exist and give praise, we must savor our relationship with her, after all, we are 80 percent water. Our thanks is sacred activism: water rises to meet the challenges of modernity and will save herself, so she tells me. Blessed is Life. Water is Sacred.”

At the center of the city Snake Woman, meets Tomichi, her daughter. This is a holy place. The waters here are of two colors, chocolate-red and crystal-blue, respectfully. Prayers were probably made here to these life-giving waters by the ancient ones, just as people around the world at many other places of convergence make them. A convergence is a tumbling and roiling place, where two rivers or two creeks come together mixing their life-blood. Here is where change happens, the one certain action of creation and life.

When I first moved to ‘The Junction’— colloquial for ‘Grand Junction’ where the Colorado (Snake Woman) and Gunnison (Tomichi) Rivers meet — over 30 years ago, the area of the convergence was visible from the 5th Street bridge. It was a polluted eyesore: the banks were lined with rusting car bodies, blown out tires, chunks of cement foundations, asphalt parking lots, and rip-rap that defied the river’s naturally changing course. Water was a resource, a commodity to be controlled, not sacred or finite. 

Aptly called the Nile of the West, Snake Woman works harder and gives more to the people than any other living being in the West as her waters are used both upstream and over the vast mountain range to the east and downstream to Arizona, Nevada and California. More than 25 dams and special water diversion devices decorate her winding body, as though she has been a cadaver experiment. 

But to me, and others, she is a living, sacred being. However, rather than prayers and offerings of gratitude like some other sacred rivers receive, she gets an endless amount of attention by humans today who work to mitigate and manage the complexity of the west’s water laws, so over 37 million people get their rightful share of her. Yet, through all of this, Snake Woman’s ancient name translates to Eternal Moving Waters or Waters of Life Always Flowing. Having lived for about 6 billion years, she is a miracle, tenaciously flowing and living up to her blessed name. 

She is beginning to be noticed in a different way now, thankfully, and with the respect that she was once accustomed to in ancient times by the Numic-speaking peoples of the Colorado River Basin. Today, her banks have been cleaned up, parkways flow along beside her for everyone’s enjoyment, laughter is heard on the wind by boaters as they paddle and float on her deep and flowing waters. 

There is an ancient creation story of the Colorado River that lyrically informs the listener that she descended from the Sky Realm in the Cloud World. When it was time for her to marry, the Creator sent her to this grey, hard and hot land where several arrogant suitors wooed her. She waited under a willow tree on a vast red, colorfully patterned blanket that softened the land, as soft as a cloud would be. After several unsuccessful attempts to court her, one fine fellow came forth singing for the Cloud People to arrive and the waters to fall from the sky to occlude the aim of the Sun Man. As the Sky Waters fell the contest was decided; she married this suitor and the land of the Red Blanket was created as beautiful canyons and twelve river daughters flowed into her while Snake Woman found her way forever flowing from the high Rocky Mountains back to her mother, Grandmother Ocean. This was a natural progression. 

Peoples emerged along the way at the sacred confluences of Snake Woman and her daughters. The Hopi people’s creation story begins where another of Snake Woman’s daughters, the Little Colorado River, flows into her. The ancient emergence place still exists at this confluence. They are people of the Colorado Plateau, the ‘sanctuary’, a place of protection that wraps its arms around all the people of this land, including those of us who live here alongside Snake Woman, her daughters and countless granddaughters. The Havasupai, the People of the Blue-Green Waters, live very close to Snake Woman’s edge, and are informed and enlivened by the crystalline structure of the turquoise waters that run in their veins and through their village of Supai.

We, who live here long enough, become this land by drinking her water and the waters from springs, rivers and lakes that become part of her body. By giving gratitude to the life of these sacred horizontal and vertical waters, they in turn give all beings here life. Living on the Grand Mesa I am aware of the watershed that has become sacred to our people. We feel the sacred places of the old ones waking up and responding to the gratitude bestowed. 

We have an opportunity to learn from elders of the people of the Colorado River Basin about this land we call home. Hopi and Havasupai elders will speak and teach from the depths of their relationships with the sacred waters on the bank of the Colorado River at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Colorado. Please give the waters and land praise for our lives, and learn from the banks of her gift of Eternal Moving Waters. This time together has the potential to be a rich dialogue that will deepen our connection to life here in the Sanctuary.   

Voices of Wisdom, May 25th & 26th, 2019. For information/registration go to www.sacredfire.foundation/event/voices-of-wisdom-southwest/.

Deanna Jenné serves as a Mara’akame initiated in the Huichol tradition of Mexico. As community and ritual leaders, initiated fire keepers and weather workers, Deanna and her husband Gary Weidner provide a space for ritual, ceremony and connection to the natural world. Visit www.Growing-Corn.com and www.facebook.com/watercomesfirst.gj 

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