After Hours 11.23.22
Discussion 18: Mica Sparkle, Acorns, and Palomar Snow with Alexis Munoa Dyer
Meet Alexis Munoa Dyer - Native woman, mother, musician, film photographer, weaver, writer, friend and partner, human being. When I read her words, time stops. I don't know what else to say, I have no other introduction to give because I feel it wouldn't be adequate. Read on to learn about Alexis' family, her connection to her clan and her ancestral home, her creative processes and more. We can all benefit from examining history and surely we all have much to learn. I know I do. Will you join me?
A note: We are approaching the celebration of the myth of Thanksgiving. This day falls within Native American Heritage Month and is celebrated on land that was stolen from people my own ancestors brutalized, from human beings who continue to be brutalized to this day. As a white woman of European descent living in America, I am complicit with this violence, and I feel shame and embarrassment and heaviness and empathy and sadness. But because we feel we should not run away from. Because we feel we must look deeper and examine so much of what we have been taught, and of what we believe.
While I recognize the importance of gratitude in life and of time spent with loved ones, doing so based upon a false narrative that continues to perpetuate violence and deny reality is a horribly flawed, destructive and harmful practice. Instead of giving thanks for a violent and brutal history, for willful ignorance, I choose to sit in the discomfort of our place within it. I choose gratitude for Alexis and the truths she graciously shares with us, for her time, for her honesty, for sharing and explaining herself despite the complication and despite the pain. We forever honor the Pechanga band, the Luiseño people, the Payómkawichum. We honor all Native and Indigenous peoples beyond all man-made and arbitrary borders around the world. We vow to be humble, to be open to change, to be willing to learn and grow from mistakes and to commit to what needs to be done in honor of our shared humanity with all of earth's peoples.
This blog is an entire world on a page. Thank you, Alexis.
All photo credits to Alexis and her husband Andrew Dyer
A note from Alexis: "Sharing and explaining myself, (as with any minoritized identity) there is beauty, there is complication, there is pain, there is a feeling of massive existence. Answering these questions is difficult as I balance these feelings as a Native person, as a woman, as a human. I hope you read these with empathy and understanding of tone of voice and the complexity of these issues, of our existence together.
Please tell us about your identity as a Native woman.
Notúng Alexis Munoa Dyer yaqá. Nokíiyampom Tóo$aval pi Pechangayam.
Chámcha ‘Atáaxum Payómkawichum. Nokúngup Andrew Dyer, pi noamáayumpom Rafael pi Ramona.
My name is Alexis Munoa Dyer. My family is the Tóo$aval clan and we are from the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. We are of the greater Atáaxum Payómkawichum - The Nation of Western People. My husband is Andrew and my children are Rafael and Ramona.
It’s customary across the 574+ Indigenous Nations to introduce myself in this relational way. I acknowledge my family and geography. I speak Chamtéela Payómkawichum first because the land has heard this language since time immemorial - what is now called Southern California is the birthplace of my people. Identity is a loaded word for most Native people.
Since Colombus’ captain’s log, others have tried to classify and categorize us.
“Kill the Indian, save the man” was the motto of the schools our parents and grandparents attended. Blood quantum, land theft, religious abuse, and boarding schools are tools used by colonizer governments to try to destroy us. I say “are”, not “were”, because these things are ongoing. The effects of this abuse are still rampant. They try to dehumanize us so they can justify their violence.
My identity cannot be put into a measurement, a field study, a skull caliper. We are not a conquered people. Their definitions fall short of what it means to belong to this geography. I am a Payómkawish woman. Payómkawish means Western.
I am the sum of everything that means. Our home stretches from San Clemente to Idyllwild to Palomar to Encinitas and out to the Southern Channel Islands. Every part of what has occurred here. Mineral, animal, I AM SEA GRASS. I AM MICA SPARKLE. I AM ACORNS. I AM PALOMAR SNOW. I AM GOLD. I AM OCEAN.
My body and my soul are one thing and what I am is the amalgamation of this land’s history. I am literally born of these entities: Túukumit the night sky and Tamayawut the earth.
In the words of her loveliness Solange Knowles:
I can't be a singular expression of myself, there's too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations, too many lines, too many curves, too many troubles, too many journeys, too many mountains, too many rivers, so many.
Connection is everything to us. I mean connection to your ecosystem, environment, family, friends, food, water, plants, air - it’s all community.
We are not separate from nature. We are nature. I am you and you are me. None of us is alone. These relationships started a long time ago... because of our grandmothers’ connection to the land. Whatever I am now was within her and her before her and on and on. My earliest memories include the plant relatives: seagrass, Náavut prickly pear, qáa$il, sea fog…
“All my relations” as we say across Indian Country.
In our communities we are taught to look after and care for each other. In the 90s when the rains would happen, people would get stuck on one side of the river that goes through the middle of our Rez. Our community would come together to feed each other and take care of the water. When loved ones pass we are taught to show up and take care of those who are grieving.
Now colonialism did quite the number on us in trying to shake that - and we are still trying to recover- but in my lifetime I have seen an increase in understanding and healing. My children were able to attend school with their people and hear our language daily. My husband works for our tribe. We have collaborated on the design of a poetry anthology that is hitting the press soon! I created many photo projects for my people, am a basket weaver and loved working with our youth.
supports and lifts your community. Some days cutting my kids’ toaster waffles with love and care feels like I’m doing the most important thing for my community.
If I weave a basket, and if that basket is given to my son, then his connection to the whole world sits beside his bed. When you’re a weaver you have to know the seasons and the weather patterns to know when the materials are ready to be gathered to weave, it’s relational! My relation to the plants, to the places I gather, to my son is all encompassing and present when he puts his special things like of seashells, legos and his traditional qénxatum (necklaces) in the basket I made.
So. I love myself, I love my family, I love my people and all people.
I love my rivers, I love Páayaxchi (Lake Elsinore), I love Qáa$il (white sage).
All these things are me and I am them. Connected.
and the soft glow of the sunset
What are the top three things you wish the non-Native community in our area knew about Native people?
We have been here since time immemorial. This geography is our birthplace. We deserve mutual respect. We have a long history with these places so we know them well.
Everywhere you are - Legoland, Trestles, Vail Lake, the beach, is land that our people belong to. It’s in our histories and songs. It will always be our home. Time immemorial > 500ish years.
lawyers, students, softball players and these things do not define what it is to be an acceptable human.
Assimilation is not success. We do all these things and still move in ways to continue and cultivate our way of life. We are people, not magic or mystery. Americana Romantic notions are pure fiction. Our cultures are real and deserve respect. I wish for them to have an understanding of the toil and love our people have and have had. I wish they could more easily see the importance of the care and relationship that we have with the land.
Our Home takes care of us and We take care of it in a circle - not a transaction.
You were generous enough to reach out to me with compassion and concern about our sales of white sage in the store. I was so grateful for that and explained that I had recently been educated about the burning of white sage as being a practice "closed" to non-Native peoples. As a result of these conversations, we will no longer carry or sell white sage. Can you please give us some historical concept so that we can share this knowledge regarding closed practices with our readers?
To understand why some might feel that its best to “close the practice” you have to remember that our practices were banned as very shortly after Mómyam (the ones who came on boats) arrived. Our songs, language, medicines were villainized to the point of severe punishment if we were caught practicing. 1797 (not that long ago) was the establishment of the San Luis Rey Mission. Our grandparents built the mission as slaves. They were beaten or put to death often in front of their families if they resisted.
Also ever present is the threat of the entitlement of the colonizer:
Companies and sellers poach our plants as demand increases. White Sage is trending so it’s getting exploited. This entitled exploitation spreads its grasp into every corner it can. Elders have described this current state as an insatiable mindset - all consuming. Abalone was overfished so it is almost extinct in our area. Deer are scarce. Burrowing owl is in trouble. Monarchs are suffering. And in turn our water and air is beginning to be poisoned.
Just because you can buy something doesn’t mean you should. You wouldn’t wear tiger fur or sea turtle earrings... it's the same. So White Sage, Elderberry, Prickly Pear or whatever the trend may be... for us these are our relatives who we have been in relation with since the beginning of time for us. They have helped us live good healthy lives for thousands of years.
When we gather medicine the relationship is reciprocal. You wouldn’t go up to someone you just met and ask them for something personal. You organically cultivate relation. You stay humble, learning, open and curious. You learn each other’s histories.
Before appropriating endangered relatives here in what is now called Southern California - I think we would all have a lot more understanding if people looked to their own ancestral earth-related medicines. What do they do in Norway? Who are the plant relative’s missing you in Scotland? And now that you’re living here, what can we do together to heal? There is so much restoration that needs to be done here. Let’s restore before we take. Seeking to cleanse? Great! Call your local city council and tell them to plant Native plants! Plant Native plants in your yard instead of decorative ones. Stop foraging, period. Let Indigenous people practice their things in peace. That would clear your energy much better and faster than burning sage that was violently poached off land stolen from its caretakers. Plant the plants instead! Grow your own! :)
Fun Local girl fact: I sang at La Paloma as a 10 year old! I grew up singing. It’s always been part of me. I studied jazz in college, guitar bonfire jam with my family when we can, sing our traditional songs to my kids. My main gig is free flowing with my husband and his nylon string guitar. We were sad when Moonage
closed cause we wanted to jam on that little stage! Someday we will play Roxy Sunday brunch but for now we jam when our kids are in bed and it's what keeps me alive haha!
Edward Curtis (Non-Native and problematic) dominated the photo world when it came to our narrative. There wasn’t a ton of social media presence yet either. I
Alexis in the Utility Jumpsuit
As a mother, what pieces of wisdom are most important to you to impart to your children?
I wish for them to know that they are so beautiful just because they are.
Empathy, compassion and laughter will help you get through anything. Learn from the Ocean. You can change your mind. It’s okay to not eat the non-dairy item if you don’t want to... also you have lactose intolerance. Sorry I gave that to you.
What resources do you recommend for non-Native people looking to educate themselves about Native rights and land?
National Congress of American Indians - An article highlighting the importance of tribal governance and sovereignty.
Indian Country Today - A nonprofit news organization amplifying the voice of Indigenous people throughout the Americas.
Illuminative - A Native woman-led racial and social justice organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of—and challenging the narrative about—Native peoples.
Native Land Digital - Learn about the lands you inhabit, the history of those lands, and how to actively be part of a better future going forward together.
An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe by Benjamin Madley
The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages by N.Scott Momaday
Fools Crow by James Welch
Tracks by Louise Edrich
The Woman Who Watches Over the World by Linda Hogan
Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future by Patty Krawwec (This one I have read parts of and plan on finishing over holidays)
What are your top five favorite songs right now?
In no particular order:
Hannah Cohen - “This Is Your Life’
Sam Evian (featuring Kazu Makino) - “Next to You”
Cat Power - “The Moon”
Beyonce - “I’m That Girl”
Pharell, Tyler, 21 - “Cash In Cash Out”