My name is Nicole Horseherder and I am Diné and I am the director for an organization called Tó Nizhóní Ání. Tó Nizhóní Ání  we interpret that as “sacred water speaks.” Tó is water. Nizhóní means a number of different things depending on the context. Beautiful, harmonious, pristine, good, all those things. Ání is literally third person says. In Diné, we are gender neutral, so we don’t have he and she. So essentially, Tó Nizhóní Ání is “when water speaks.”

So I am from the high plateau of Black Mesa, which is in northeast Arizona, and about 30,000 or so Diné and Hopi live on Black Mesa. And we don’t have surface water on Black Mesa, we have groundwater. So all our water is accessed through seeps and springs.

A seep is when there’s a shallow underground river and either by the movement of the moon, the gravitational pull – that pressure or that pull actually brings the shallow river to the surface for a certain period of time. The way my mom used to describe her childhood is: they would take sheep down into the valley in this particular place at 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning and the water beneath the surface of the earth would come to the surface for about an hour or so, and they would then go up and dig shallow pools so the water could collect and then the sheep would drink.

So I was raised by my grandmother, and my grandmother has always been a shepherdess. My grandmother has always been a farmer. My grandmother has always been a weaver. And she was never educated in the Western system of schools and she never learned English. And I’m so thankful for that to this day that I had one of the very few grandmothers who was not assimilated and was not touched by colonialism. However, not entirely. People in her time adopted modern tools like shovels and axes, things that just make your life on a farm or a ranch easier. Other than that, she was Diné. Anything that she didn’t feel like was useful to making her life more efficient or more effective she rejected.

Read the full article about Indigenous water rights by Nicole Horseherder at Grist.