The Mojave People’s Connection to Avi Kwa Ame

Paul Jackson
|March 21, 2024

Ka-ma-thuu (How are you)? Ka-havk kee-theek ke-nak ka’avk (Come in, sit down, and listen). 

The world was a little different when I was a boy. In the evening time, after swimming all day and playing in the desert, we would go home, and after everything was done, we didn’t have television sets or radios – a lot of us didn’t have electricity or running water, so we’d sit outside, and the old people would come and sit in a circle and just talk, and listen to Eech-ka-nav, what we call the storyteller. I remember the old people, the way they talked, their words were very deep and direct and strong, because they spoke from the heart.

In the first times, we were many, free to roam the lands, free to practice our beliefs and traditional ways. When I was young, it was good to feel the earth beneath my bare feet, to swim and drink water straight from the mighty Colorado river. We ate the fruits and plants that grew throughout the land, we prayed and worshiped at our sacred sites. For the southwest tribes, the desert was like a paradise. To us, the desert plants were like a huge medicine cabinet.

To communicate with all living creatures, and protect and respect the earth, was and still is our tradition. Now the land is slowly being destroyed by illegal trash dumping, vandalism, and graffiti. Wind towers and solar panels are all over the place. When I was young, I would listen to my elders, as the youngsters listen to me today, because I am their elder. If we don’t teach kids our traditional ways, we will cease to exist. For the Aha Macav, we were put on this land and charged to protect our sacred sites – the air, mountains, river, desert plants, and animals.

When I walk near Spirit Mountain, I am not just a person walking towards the mountain, I am part of it. This is the same for the river. Our elders say, if you sit by the river at sunset, the river will talk to you. If you sit by the mountain, it will talk to you, for you are one.

When I was a young boy, I would hear stories about the river. For us the river is spiritual, a living spirit. The river is who we are. When I first saw graffiti and trash dumping at our sacred sites, I had mixed emotions -- sad, angry, confused, but mostly it was that helpless feeling. It was like I had failed to protect the land, and I failed my ancestors. I couldn’t understand how anyone could do this. This place is our church, our place of worship, our place of creation.

For the Mojave people, every part of this earth is sacred. The wind is precious to us, the wind that gave life to all living animals when they received their first breath, is also there when they receive their last. It is like the trees. They are with us from the time we are born to the day we die. When we are babies, we are put in cradleboards made from the mesquite and willow trees. Going through life, we use the trees for food, clothing, tools, weapons, houses that we lived in, and lastly being cremated when our spirits leave our physical bodies.

In the first times, if a prophet had come to our village and foretold a future that said, in the coming years, we would not be able to swim and drink from the river, that our sacred sites would be blown up and become sand hills, that we would not be able to breathe the clean, fresh air, that we could not hunt and fish at our favorite fishing holes, could not to come and go where we please, and would not be able to communicate with the animals anymore, we would not have believed him.

We believe in animism, that all things are alive and have a spirit. Avi Kwa Ame was and continues to be one of the most, if not the most important landmark in Mojave territory. It is the site of many events in the ancient times. Above the mountains, the stars told stories that we told our children. To us, the big dipper was the fisherman throwing a large net into the water to catch the fish. The Milky Way, to us, is a large amount of salmon traveling up the river going back to where they were born to reproduce. The stars also told the time and the directions to travel at night.

Avi Kwa Ame is also a place of learning, to this day we take our kids there to learn about our creation stories. They learn about the desert animals that live in the area, and how we use the desert plants for food, clothing and medicine.

Avi Kwa Ame is also a place where we would hide our kids when the government came around to take our children away, and force them into boarding schools. One of those schools was the Fort Mojave Boarding School. They would hide the kids way back in the trees of Grapevine Canyon. Avi Kwa Ame is our place of creation, and Mataviily, our creator. Mataviily made his house out of the Black Mountains near where Hoover Dam is today. I was told that it is still there but now it is underwater.

Avi Kwa Ame is the residence of Mastamho, the son of our creator. He is our version of Jesus. For us, Avi Kwa Ame is sacred, the land in which we were born is sacred. Our graveyards are sacred, the ashes and dust of our ancestors are sacred. If I’m standing in the water, on the land, or flying through the sky somewhere, I am part of it. We are one. For native people, our sacred sites are very spiritual. That is who we are. That is the connection.

We only want to live and worship our creator, and tell our creation stories to our children, like others all over the world. We want to live as our grandparents did, and all our ancestors before them. All we ask is to love this land as we have, care for it as we have, protect it and respect it as we have. For the whole world is precious.

There is more I can say, but it is very difficult to explain. When our chiefs, our elders would talk, their words were deep, and they came from the heart. I have just one more thing to say, and that is Ahote Ki-su-maak (Dream good), My friends, Ni-un-ti-ya, (we will see each other again). Sumach ahote (Thank you and have good dreams).

Paul Jackson is an artist, teacher, and elder of the Ft. Mojave Indian Tribe. For the past 23 years, he has used his paintings and sculptures to share cultural stories and to teach the history and language of the Mojave people to the next generations.

Paul Jackson's "The Mojave People’s Connection to Avi Kwa Ame" is published with permission from Friends of Avi Kwa Ame. This piece was originally published in The Searchlight Gold Beam in commemoration of the one year anniversary of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument.

On March 21 2023, President Joe Biden designated Avi Kwa Ame (Ah-VEE kwa-meh) National Monument in Southern Nevada by use of the Antiquities Act, honoring the decades-long community effort to protect this sacred area. While the monument designation celebrates its one year anniversary, Indigenous peoples have stewarded this land for millennia, and many Tribal Nations trace their creation to Avi Kwa Ame. The designation of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument honors these sacred connections, protects Avi Kwa Ame’s ecological and cultural values, and honors Tribal sovereignty by establishing co-stewardship of the monument. Virtually visit Avi Kwa Ame National Monument by visiting our StoryMap here.

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    Paul Jackson published this page in Latest News 2024-03-21 14:18:46 -0600
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